Five conservation groups today called the government’s recent proposed remedy in New England groundfish litigation illegal and inadequate because it fails to break the decades-long cycle of overfishing.
A December 28th ruling by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia said that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) defied Congress' mandate to conserve New England’s valuable groundfish fishery, including cod, haddock, and flounder. According to economists, a healthy groundfish fishery could mean an extra $445 million a year for New England fishermen.
In January, conservationists proposed eight steps to rebuild the overfished populations, and on March 1st the government responded with its own remedy proposal. Today in their formal response filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., conservation groups pointed out that the government proposes to use the same methods considered by the New England Fishery Management Council to achieve the goals of the same discredited plan, known as Amendment 7.
“The government’s disregard for the court order is pretty shocking,” said Eric Bilsky of Oceana, which represents plaintiffs Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), The Ocean Conservancy (TOC), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and the National Audubon Society (NAS).
In January, the plaintiffs asked the judge to order NMFS to end overfishing and rebuild overfished groundfish populations, as well as report and minimize bycatch (non-target fish and other marine life taken incidentally in fisheries and often discarded dead or dying). The court held that NMFS “frustrated the will of Congress” by not addressing bycatch. “The government’s proposed remedy includes no means to reduce bycatch. NMFS proposes to increase the number of impartial observers on fishing boats to record the bycatch by less than one additional day per vessel. That’s simply ridiculous when fishermen themselves say publicly that they are discarding record numbers of fish but many of the logbooks that they submit to the government report no discards at all,” added Bilsky.
The government’s proposed measures create powerful incentive for fishermen to move away from the Gulf of Maine, which will increase the fishing pressure in other regions. “It’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul, and we’re not buying it” said Anthony Chatwin, scientist for CLF. “They claim to protect cod while blatantly disregarding the other 17 groundfish populations. This is precisely the approach that led to the current situation where 15 of the 19 groundfish populations are overfished.”
The conservation groups say that continued overfishing and delayed rebuilding will be the outcome of the inadequate measures proposed by NMFS, resulting in continued crisis in the New England groundfish fishery. “The government’s proposed remedy would continue the overfishing that has plagued New England for decades,” said Sonja Fordham, Fish Conservation Project Manager for The Ocean Conservancy, who has monitored New England fisheries management for more than ten years. “To rebuild New England groundfish and avoid endangering vulnerable, depleted species such as skates, overfishing must be halted and bycatch can no longer be ignored.”
According to Dr. Carl Safina, Director of Audubon's Living Oceans program, "The government is acting as if it won this case, proposing a plan that does not comply with the court's order. It is time to break the cycle and bring New England's legendary fishing grounds back to life."
“We should not sacrifice the beginning of a rebound in the New England fishery by continuing to overfish and repeating the mistakes of the past. We hope that NMFS will finally be required to take the simple steps Congress required in 1996 to track and reduce the horrendous waste of groundfish that are simply thrown, dead and dying, back into the sea,” stated Brad Sewell, senior project attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
More information and related documents are available at www.Oceana.org. BACKGROUND ON THE FIVE CONSERVATION GROUPS: Founded in 1966, the Conservation Law Foundation is a nonprofit, member-supported organization that uses law, economics and science to design and implement strategies to conserve natural resources, protect public health, and promote vital communities in New England. It has regional advocacy centers in Boston; Montpelier, Vermont; Concord, New Hampshire; and Rockland, Maine. www.clf.org
Oceana, whose Ocean Law Project is lead counsel on this case, is a new non-profit, international advocacy organization created with the sole purpose of protecting the world's oceans to sustain the circle of life. Oceana brings together dedicated people from around the world, building an international movement to save the oceans through public policy advocacy, science and economics, legal action, grassroots mobilization, and public education. Oceana recently launched a national campaign, OceansAtRisk.com, and filed a formal petition to reduce fishery bycatch in all U.S. waters. www.Oceana.org
The Ocean Conservancy is the largest national nonprofit organization committed solely to protecting ocean environments and conserving the global abundance and diversity of marine life. Through science-based advocacy, research, and public education, The Ocean Conservancy seeks to inform, inspire, and empower people to speak and act for the oceans. Headquartered inWashington, DC with more than 900,000 members and volunteers, The Ocean Conservancy has regional offices in Alaska, California, Florida, and Maine and field offices in Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz, CA, the Florida Keys, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. www.oceanconservancy.org
Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, the organization has more than 500,000 members nationwide, and has offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco. www.nrdc.org
Founded in 1905 and supported by over 550,000 members in over 500 chapters throughout the Americas, the National Audubon Society conserves and restores natural ecosystems, focusing on birds and other wildlife for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity. www.audubon.org