Science Supports Increases in Annual Catch Limits for New England Groundfish
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke’s recently replied to requests from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), that increased ACLs can be scientifically justified.
“I am prepared to issue an emergency regulation to revise catch limits whenever there is both sufficient economic and sound scientific data available to meet those requirements,” Locke wrote. “You have graciously offered to provide scientific and economic information that could support the exercise of the emergency rule authority in response to the current situation in New England,” said Locke.
In response to Locke’s statement a group including Steve Cadrin, Kevin Stokesbury, Dan Georgianna, Emily Keiley, and Cate O’Keefe of the University of Massachusetts School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST), together with and David Pierce of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries have drafted a report entitled “Scientific Information Available to Support Increases in Annual Catch Limits for New England Groundfish.” Brian Rothschild of SMAST provided valuable input to the report. The report was presented at a meeting in New Bedford of Mayor Scott Lang’s Oceans and Fisheries Council at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
The report argues that scientific information is available to support increased Annual Catch Limits (ACLs) for New England groundfish that do not undermine conservation mandates of the Magnuson Act. A review of scientific analyses used to derive ACLs finds that several decisions favored relatively low ACLs, and scientifically valid alternatives may be available for: 1) direct estimates of FMSY, 2) alternative stock assessment models, 3) smaller uncertainty buffers, and 4) revised rebuilding objectives. Alternative scientific decisions would support increases in ACLs for all New England groundfish stocks, with substantial increases for ‘choke stocks’ such as Georges Bank yellowtail flounder, Georges Bank cod, Gulf of Maine cod, Gulf of Maine winter flounder, and southern New England winter flounder. Increased ACLs for ‘choke stocks’ are expected to allow the fleet to achieve more of their allocation of other stocks, thereby substantially increasing mixed-stock economic yield.
Additionally, Locke earlier announced he would support a bill filed by Frank and Maine Republican Senator Olympia Snowe that would allow for an exemption from obligatory stock rebuilding targets for fish swimming between the US and Canada.