Today the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released a report showing that its scientific trawl survey data remains sound despite minor deficiencies in its survey gear. NMFS found that problems in recent trawl surveys had no significant effect on the data collected in those surveys.
After reviewing the report findings, Oceana urged federal fishery managers and commercial fishermen to move forward on Amendment 13 in the New England groundfish fishery. Powerful commercial fishermen have long advocated a delay of up to two years in the implementation of Amendment 13 because of its anticipated necessary reduction in days at sea.
“Today's report shows that problems with the trawl survey have not significantly affected NMFS's data, so the agency can move ahead to develop a management plan that finally stops overfishing in New England,” said Eric Bilsky, Senior Attorney at Oceana. “There is no scientific basis for significantly delaying the development of improved management that will provide far more fish in the long-term. Today's report suggests that certain commercial fishermen are exaggerating minor discrepancies for political gain. The public has waited for years for fishery managers to stop overfishing. Now is the time to let groundfish populations recover to healthy levels.”
Bilsky explained that any implementation of Amendment 13, slated to go into effect on August 1, 2003, is likely to include a substantial reduction in fishing days. “These short-term reductions in fishing days are based on sound science. Moreover, the proposed improvements in fisheries management were not based on the allegedly flawed trawl data, but rather on decades of data that show how few fish are in the ocean compared to past populations and projections of future growth. Groundfish populations will continue to shrink if we don't limit fishing effort, but will rapidly rebuild to healthy levels if we manage our fisheries based on science. Today's report reaffirmed the scientific support for the conservation position.”
Finally, Bilsky agreed that fishing is a crucial element of New England's heritage. “Healthy fish populations are vital to the regional and national economy. Nobody wants to see fishermen out of work, but if we continue to overfish, soon fishermen will have nothing to catch. Groundfish populations are dangerously low because of overfishing, and the only available solution is to allow the populations to rebuild to healthy levels. According to NMFS scientists, once populations are rebuilt, fishermen will be able to catch three times as many fish as they do right now. Doing nothing will only cause further depletion of the groundfish population. If overfishing continues, fishermen's economic woes will only get worse. Minor errors in data collection have not changed those scientific facts.”
Oceana is an international environmental organization created for the sole purpose of protecting the world's oceans to sustain the circle of life. In May 2002, Oceana merged with the American Oceans Campaign to bring together dedicated people from around the world to build an international movement to save the oceans through advocacy, science, economics, legal action, grassroots mobilization, and public education. For more information, visit www.oceana.org.