In late June commercial fishermen, represented by Earthjustice, won a vote at the New England Fisheries Management Council, which for the first time commits fishermen to adhere to science-based catch limits. The council vote could put an end to overfishing through the use of a “hard” total allowable catch — an approach that requires fishing to stop when limits are reached. Implemented correctly, this action could rebuild fish stocks and allow New England’s historic 400-year-old groundfish industry to regain profitability.
“New England’s groundfish have been hammered for years, yet managers have been unwilling to cure the fishery’s systemic overfishing through a meaningful rebuilding plan followed by a sustainable approach to management,” said Earthjustice attorney Roger Fleming. “Today’s action signals that finally the body that governs fishing for groundfish in New England may be waking up.”
The council voted to create a number of fishing “sectors,” which are a form of fishermen cooperatives that require their members to stop fishing when they reach their quota of fish. In exchange, sector fishermen can fish when they want until their quota is reached rather than the old system which limited the amount of time fishing was allowed. Those who do not enter sectors will be required to fish under a hard quota by the 2012 fishing year. In the meantime common pool vessels will face automatic reductions in the time they are allowed to fish if they exceed the quota.
While the groundfish species haddock has greatly improved in recent years due to factors like area closures and two years of near-record reproduction, more than ten other groundfish stocks continue to be severely depleted and suffer from overfishing. The new changes should help all groundfish stocks to recover, and help sustain the haddock success. Some improvements were also made to monitoring programs critical to the success of the program, though much more needs to be done.
Nineteen sectors are slated for operation beginning on May 1, 2010. Though voluntary, it is anticipated more than one-half of fishermen will enter sectors. Those fishing vessels that have not signed up to participate will remain in the so-called “common pool” for at least one more year, fishing under the old “days-at-sea” system with trip limits and time constraints on their fishing effort.
The council will now send its final Amendment 16 document to the National Marine Fisheries Service for approval.