A Response to Gib Brogan’s NY Times Article “A Knockout Blow for Fish Stocks”

A Response to Gib Brogan’s  NY Times Article “A Knockout Blow for Fish Stocks”

    Unfortunately for NY Times readers, this article is full of false and misleading information. It has caused quite a stir not based on fact, but based on deliberately inaccurate statements.  The article begins with a woeful tale of Atlantic cod. What it does not tell you is that just a few years ago, a 2008 assessment for Gulf of Maine cod showed that the stock was healthy, and would attain desired levels within all specified timeframes. During this time, fishermen stayed within the allowable catch levels, and even below these levels- see http://www.fishnet-usa.com/chronic_underfishing.htm fmlappor how most New England stocks have been actually underfished, not overfished as this article implies. Now, despite responsible fishing and even underfishing by New England fishermen, the science shows a dramatic decline in the cod population. The real question is why? Is the science that inaccurate? How can it say one thing one year and a completely opposite thing the next?
   One question often raised in response is that of the burgeoning grey seal population, which on the iconic Cape “Cod” had reached 16,000 individuals by 2013 and was expected to grow by a rate of 20% annually in the foreseeable future. A mature grey seal can consume up to 5 tons of fish per year, so if one does the math it is easy to see that  increased pressure on fish stocks is coming not from humans but possibly from unchecked seal populations. To give readers an idea of the magnitude of this implication, the total Atlantic cod that was commercially landed by all New England fishermen in 2013 was 2,247.3 tons.  Of course, not all of a grey seal’s diet will be cod. But the extrapolated numbers clearly show that even if cod were a fairly small percentage of the seal population’s diet, the tonnage of cod consumed by Cape Cod seals can be a staggering amount. Seals will deliberately hunt cod, as shown by this video from 2013 in Newfoundland/Labrador, Canada, which shows “cod you can walk on” herded into a small inlet by hungry seals : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6vfmGm2IsY .  In fact, there is scientific evidence to suggest that seal populations may actually drive cod populations out of their preferred habitat areas, in an attempt to escape predation (see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25976520) . To demonize responsible fishermen for “overfishing” when they have abided within scientifically established catch quotas is wrong, especially while ignoring other aspects of ecosystem based management that need to be addressed. 
   Mr. Brogan also accuses the New England Fishery Management Council of removing “habitat protections” through its recent Habitat Amendment. Perhaps he has not sat through all of the Habitat Committee meetings, read the materials used in the decisions of the Council (the Habitat Amendment is a larger document than the Affordable Care Act and the product of eleven years of research and development), or has not paid attention to the purposes of former closed areas. Contrary to the assumptions of this article, the Georges Bank closed areas were never designed to protect habitat. They were designed as groundfish mortality closures under the former days at sea plan for groundfish, in an attempt to restrict fishing effort when there was no annual total allowable catch. This is the case of many of the closed areas.  Due to the fact that they were designed as groundfish mortality closures, various other fishing gear types have had access to these areas, either seasonally or in some cases year round. Since the hard total allowable catch (TAC) was instituted for groundfish, there is no longer a reason to restrict groundfishing effort by area, because there is a cap on how much fish can be harvested by the entire fleet. Furthermore, those areas were agreed to by fishermen on the basis that by limiting themselves for a six year period only, the area would be reopened, i.e., if you take the hit now, you will be rewarded in the long run. That was approximately twenty years ago. The reason for their institution no longer exists, and the opening is about fifteen years overdue past the promised reopening time. There is no scientific evidence to support their further closure.
   The habitat model used by the New England Council in the Habitat Amendment is called the SASI model, or swept area seabed impact, model. It is designed to show areas of stable bottom, such as hard or rocky bottom, where structured fish habitat exists. This habitat is more vulnerable to the impacts of fishing gear than sand bottom, which naturally changes with water movement, storms, etc.. Sand bottom is continually shifting, even at significant depths, so it does not support structured habitat. The Habitat Amendment looked at the areas mapped by the SASI model to restrict fishing in the structured habitat bottom. Not all area of the ocean is structured fish habitat and not all areas of the ocean are adversely impacted by fishing gear, as this article suggests. That is a myth.
  Opening up closed areas that were closed for reasons long gone, and which do not contain structured habitat, does not have a negative effect on fish habitat, or on the ecosystem. In fact, new areas identified as possibly requiring protection, were created by the Amendment. The Habitat Amendment was based on a scientific model, and all the area closures/openings were completed on a scientific basis.
   The nation’s governing fisheries law, the Magnuson Stevens Act, requires that fishery management plans be based on the best scientific information available, which this Amendment was. It also requires that the economic impacts to fishing communities be a mitigating factor and taken into account by management plans. Working with the fishing community is an integral concept of the law. The stated purpose of the Magnuson Stevens Act is to “promote domestic commercial and recreational fishing under sound conservation and management principles” using the “best scientific information available”. In case anyone missed that- to promote fishing. Side by side with sound conservation based on science, true science and not hearsay. The New England Habitat Amendment accomplishes this goal by promoting access to fishing areas while conserving scientifically vulnerable habitat.
   The NY Times article also refers to the suspension of the At Sea Monitor (ASM) program an insinuates that vessels will not be subjected to any sort of observer coverage or compliance monitoring. This is not  remotely true. Fishing vessels in New England are some of the most heavily monitored entities in the country. They are fitted with a vessel monitoring system (VMS) at all times, which tracks their location and speed, and is constantly reporting back to the Coast Guard and enforcement officials to ensure compliance with area management plans. Vessels are subject to random Coast Guard boardings and gear inspections at sea, to ensure compliance with fishery laws. They must fill out vessel trip reports (VTRs), and report how much fish was caught in each statistical area, totals of which are later validated against a dealer report. When a vessel lands fish, the dealer must record all species and weights, and all these reports go into a government database, which can be used for enforcement. In addition vessels must take government contracted Northeast Fishery Observer Program (NEFOP) observers, which monitor compliance and take scientific samples of species caught on the trip. They keep detailed logbooks of vessel activity on these trips, and many vessels- depending in which fishery they are participating- must call and request an observer within a certain number of hours before leaving the dock. Some trips are observed, some are not, but random observer coverage ensures that vessels are adequately monitored.
   At Sea Monitors are an additional type of observer required only for groundfish boats participating in the sector program and which only cover a percentage of trips taken. When the sector program was initiated, vessels were allegedly expected to do economically well in order to support the cost of the ASM observers by this year. However, the opposite has been true, with most sector groundfish boats either unable to even afford the cost of fishing or operating on a shoestring budget. Due to the magnitude of economic hardship in this fishery, a federal disaster was declared and federal disaster funds distributed earlier in the year to participants.  A recent cost analysis showed that if groundfish boats were required to pay for ASM, those few who are making any profit at all right now would operate at a loss and put them out of business. Therefore, in compliance with the federal statute to consider economic impacts on the fishing community and with concerns as to the cost of the ASM program, the New England Fishery Management Council moved to suspend  ASM  until a cost/benefit analysis has been completed. Therefore, only ASM is suspended and all other monitoring mechanisms, including observers, remain in place.
   It is unfortunate that the true facts have not been presented and that millions of NY Times readers have been misled as to their nation’s natural resources and protections of that resource. Readers should be encouraged to know that U.S. fishermen operate under the most restrictive regulations in the world to supply them with a healthy, eco-friendly form of food. Furthermore, carefully managed  commercial harvest of wild fish stocks as occurs in the U.S. is one of the world’s most ecologically friendly sources of protein supply, more so than land based farming (see http://learn.eartheasy.com/2011/02/eco-impact-of-wild-seafood-less-than-that-of-poultry-beef/)  . Discouraging the public from enjoying a beneficial natural resource based on misleading information is not what the public nor America’s hard working fishermen deserve. 

7 Responses to A Response to Gib Brogan’s NY Times Article “A Knockout Blow for Fish Stocks”

  1. alaskagal says:

    Thank you for this illuminating response. It surprises me that even in Alaska some (otherwise astute) thinking people blindly accept ‘truths’ regarding East Coast fisheries, without first seeking all the facts.

  2. Joel Hovanesian says:

    Fine job Ms. Lapp. The problem is the sheeple believe these hatchet jobs done by the for profit enviro’s, who like most liberal minded Americans, don’t seem to mind watching the dismantling of this nation. Our founding fathers must be rolling over in their graves as our nation is destroyed piece by piece by these agenda driven fools who will lie and deceive to get their way.
    Our nation has lost its moral compass. I just hope it’s not to late to save what’s left.

  3. 1GregDiDomenico says:

    Maybe the public will pay attention to the truth. Great work.

  4. Geordie King says:

    Great statement Ms. Lapp. I too read Mr. Brogan’s article and was utterly flabbergasted. What was equally grotesque was the long litany of responses of misinformed readers; most of whom are in agreement with Brogan. This article is a text book example of how these supposedly “environmental” groups attempt to radically shape non-industry peoples minds to their wacked-out left wing way of thinking; the main quest of filling their (already) over-filled coffers. Our only hope now is more and better utilized data from on-board observers to contradict NMFS’ woefully inadequate trawl surveys. After all the codfish will be here long after we’re gone; mother nature will see to that.

    • Joel Hovanesian says:

      Our only hope now is more and better utilized data from on-board observers to contradict NMFS’ woefully inadequate trawl surveys.
      Show me one instance where observer coverage was used to help the fishing industry. If their coverage was used to help they would be welcomed aboard rather than hated. How many black sea bass have they observed being discarded? How many fluke have they observed being thrown away? And the list goes on and on. No, they are not there to help. They are there to fatten the bank accounts of the well connected and former regional administrator who owns the observer providing company. Now they are going to charge boats $700.00+ dollars per day for this harassment. This nonsense has to be stopped……BY ANY MEANS NESSASARY.

      • Geordie King says:

        I totally agree Joel. There is supposedly work going on at the moment to allow the observed trip stats to be utilized in ascertaining the condition of stocks and not merely tallying discards. I hate taking observers and would never take another one if I had it my way.

      • Geordie King says:

        Mr. Brogan’s first name was misspelled. The first letter should be F and not G!

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