Conservationists Call For Swift Action on New England Fisheries

October 9, 1997
(9 Oct., 1997 — Boston) The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), the Center for Marine Conservation (CMC) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) today called for aggressive implementation of the Sustainable Fisheries Act to save New England’s marine fish and the region’s fishing industry. Signed into law a year ago on October 11, 1996, the Act is designed to end overfishing in federal waters, rebuild depleted fish stocks, reduce bycatch, and protect ocean and estuarine habitat essential to fish. A new report to Congress issued last week by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) reveals that many New England fish stocks remain overfished. This report triggers a one-year countdown for the New England Council to develop management plans that will stop overfishing and restore depleted fish stocks.

“A year ago Congress voted overwhelmingly to change course and put the nation’s fisheries on a sustainable basis,” said Eleanor Dorsey, a senior scientist at CLF. “We need full implementation of this law to bring our fisheries back to health. Despite some recent improvements, most New England stocks are still in trouble.”

The NMFS report lists 15 of 35 fish stocks managed by the New England Fishery Management Council as overfished or approaching that status. On the list are traditional favorites such as lobster, sea scallops, cod, and flounder, as well as newly-prized species like monkfish. In addition, the status of several heavily fished species remains unknown and NMFS says the list will likely be expanded in response to new information and the Act?s tougher conservation standards.

“The next 12 months are critical, both for the overfished stocks and for the ultimate success of the Sustainable Fisheries Act,” said Doug Hopkins, an EDF attorney recently appointed to the New England Fishery Management Council. “The New England Fishery Management Council can bring back lost jobs by rebuilding depleted stocks. But to succeed and to prevent further tragedy, the Council must work fast and must avoid protracted wrangling over how to fairly allocate the cutbacks among different sectors of the industry.”

In 1984 New England fishermen landed 97 million pounds of cod, but by 1996 cod landings had dwindled to only 32 million pounds. This loss of landings equates to lost jobs and revenue and is directly attributable to depletion of the cod stocks.

“In the coming year, the Council and NMFS face an uphill battle as they work to enact unpopular but necessary cutbacks in fishing for a wide variety of commercially and recreationally caught species,” said Sonja Fordham, a CMC fisheries specialist. “Public support for conservation measures will be crucial to fulfilling Congressional mandates and restoring the abundance of New England’s ocean fish.”

The Center for Marine Conservation, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the New England based Conservation Law Foundation are leading nonprofit environmental advocacy organizations with strong commitments to protecting and restoring marine environments. Their combined memberships exceed 400,000 people.