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One Man's Opinion: New England’s latest headache
By Peter Redmayne
September 01, 2007
The mind-numbing complexity and frustrations of rebuilding
New England's storied groundfish fisheries were apparent once
again this summer. The problem this time was not the sacred
(and scarce) cod, but rather haddock.
The headache with haddock, it seems, is that there are too
many of them, especially on the fabled Georges Bank, where the
2003 year class may be the largest ever recorded. The problem
is that the fish are growing slower than normal and they won't
reach a legal harvestable size of 19 inches until some time
next year. In the meantime, draggers are catching boatloads of
illegal haddock, which they are required by law to toss
Some fishermen are throwing back five fish for every one
they can keep. If the fish could swim and grow up to be caught
another day, that would be one thing. But unfortunately, that's
not the reality.
"The fish are dying," Rich Canastra, co-owner of New
Bedford's Whaling City Display Auction, told the Commercial
Fisheries News . "Either you're giving it to lobsters or your
scavenger fish or you're going to give it to U.S. consumers.
What we're asking for is that it is able to be landed. This is
a big sin when we throw fish over that we rebuilt."
Veteran New England fisherman Jim Odlin is a member of the
New England Fisheries Management Council, which wrestled with
the issue at a meeting in late July. "It just seems to me to be
a total crime to be wasting this fish," Odlin told CFN .
Making fishermen discard the small haddock also encourages
them to target the larger haddock from smaller, older year
classes. Since the older, more mature fish are more fecund
spawners, it has a negative impact down the road on haddock
Adding salt to the wound is the fact that on the other side
of Georges Bank, Canadian fishermen have no minimum size on
haddock and they are sending truckloads of fillets into the
market, depressing the price of what few legal fish U.S.
fishermen are able to deliver.
At its July meeting, the council debated once again whether
it should temporarily lower the minimum size to 17 inches. One
council member against that action cautioned that, "You have to
think of this more in a long-term equilibrium sense." Another
member suggested a compromise of 18 inches. That was ultimately
rejected, however, because haddock stocks in the Gulf of Maine
have not been rebuilt and there were questions over whether the
National Marine Fisheries Service had the resources to enforce
two separate minimum sizes.
After debating the intricate network of frameworks and
amendments that make fisheries management off New England more
an interpretation of law rather than marine biology, the
council narrowly approved an emergency action that would
temporarily lower the minimum size to 17 inches.
That recommendation now goes to NMFS, where it will be
reviewed by more lawyers and fishcrats before a final decision
is made. Meanwhile, struggling fishermen, some of whom are
allowed to only fish one month a year, will have to throw back
the very fish they need to survive.
Contributing Editor Peter Redmayne lives in Seattle