The Center for Marine Conservation (CMC), the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) today welcomed the findings of a National Research Council (NRC) review of the science behind New England's management of groundfish (cod, haddock, and flounder) fisheries. An NRC panel of experts found National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) stock assessments to be valid and recent management action to be necessary in order to address severe groundfish depletion. The NRC panel warns that most groundfish stocks remain in a tenuous state while Gulf of Maine cod are in danger of collapse. The report endorses a precautionary management approach by the New England Fishery Management Council.
"The NRC warnings about Gulf of Maine cod echo last month's report by another panel of scientific experts," said EDF senior attorney Doug Hopkins. "We now have overwhelming evidence from a variety of sources that New England fisheries scientists have consistently produced solid scientific advice; our challenge is to act on that advice."
A panel known as the Multispecies Monitoring Committee (MSMC) issues an annual report on the progress of the Council's groundfish rebuilding plan. In December, the MSMC concluded that Gulf of Maine cod remain seriously overfished, reinforcing a June 1997 NMFS assessment. On January 14 and 15, the Council will deliberate and vote on recommended cuts in Gulf of Maine cod fishing. Facing opposition from some segments of the fishing industry, the Council and NMFS will need substantial public and Congressional support in order to heed the scientific advice.
"We hope the NRC report will put to rest fishermen's criticisms of the science behind groundfish management," said CLF's senior scientist Eleanor Dorsey. "It will certainly bolster the Council when it meets next week to decide how to address the latest casualty in the region - Gulf of Maine cod," added Ms. Dorsey. "Once we start applying the precautionary approach that this report recommends, we should finally stop seeing fish stocks collapse."
While mandated by Congress in response to groundfishing cutbacks, the NRC study was paid for by NMFS at a cost of approximately $250,000. Since 1994, the federal government has committed more than $100 million in aid to New England groundfish fishermen and their communities, while both federal district and circuit appeals courts have ruled against a fishing industry lawsuit that claimed NMFS groundfish science was flawed.
"Unfortunately, the American taxpayers have paid a big price for the chronic questioning of New England's fisheries science," said CMC fisheries specialist Sonja Fordham. "It is high time we stop second guessing the scientists and put federal dollars where they belong - towards enforcement of the needed groundfish regulations and enhancement of New England's extraordinary yet under-funded fisheries science programs."