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After over forty years of NOAA/NMFS management how are we really doing? Nils Stolpe

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act – I have seen the focus of government fisheries manage-ment increasingly shift away from the fishermen to the fish. The provisions of the Act as it was originally written were put in place to allow the U.S. fishing industry to regain control of the fisheries in the United States’ highly productive coastal waters,,, The legislation was singularly effective, so effective that within ten years or so of its passage the greatest portion of our domestic fish and shellfish production was being harvested by U.S. fishermen on U.S. vessels. This success was sold to the U.S. public – and the U.S. politicians – as an assault on the “sanctity” of our coastal waters by a burgeoning environmental industry that was (and still is) engaged in non-governmental empire building. This has resulted in a handful of multi-national ENGOs (Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations) that have become at least as influential as the fishing industry in national and international fisheries management. >click to read, and review the links and graphs<16:10

After over forty years of NOAA/NMFS management how are we really doing? Nils Stolpe

Nils E. Stolpe/FishNet USA
© 2019 Nils E. Stolpe
June 1, 2019

After over forty years of NOAA/NMFS management how are we really doing?

I have devoted well over two decades to familiarizing myself with and writing about various aspects of the domestic commercial fishing industry. I hope I’ve done it in a way that provides a reasonable amount of insight into what are large-ly complex and too often confusing issues.

Since being involved in the industry – and this involvement goes as far back as the passage of what is now called the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act – I have seen the focus of government fisheries manage-ment increasingly shift away from the fishermen to the fish. The provisions of the Act as it was originally written were put in place to allow the U.S. fishing industry to regain control of the fisheries in the United States’ highly productive coastal waters, fisheries which had been for the most part taken over by the distant water fleets of other fishing nations.

The legislation was singularly effective, so effective that within ten years or so of its passage the greatest portion of our domestic fish and shellfish production was being harvested by U.S. fishermen on U.S. vessels.

This success was sold to the U.S. public – and the U.S. politicians – as an assault on the “sanctity” of our coastal waters by a burgeoning environmental industry that was (and still is) engaged in non-governmental empire building. This has resulted in a handful of multi-national ENGOs (Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations) that have become at least as influential as the fishing industry in national and international fisheries management.

With huge staffs and huge public relations budgets they have successfully shifted the focus from profitably harvesting to sustainably harvesting fish
and shellfish.

This shift in focus is nowhere more obvious than in the Annual Report to Congress on the Status of U.S. Fisheries (the most current Report, for 2017, is available at

A check on the web shows that the term “fishery” includes the fish (or shellfish), their habitat, the people who catch (or grow) them, and what they use to capture (or grow) them is accurate. According the Merriam-Webster online dictionary the definition of “fishery” is:

1 – The occupation, industry, or season of taking fish or other sea animals (such as sponges, shrimp, or seals
2 – A place for catching fish or taking other sea animals
3 – A fishing establishment – also its fishermen
4 – The legal right to take fish at a particular place or in particular waters
5 – The technology of fishery —usually used in plural

According to the folks at Merriam-Webster, as well as the fish or other sea animals a fishery includes the people who catch them and all of the other mechanisms, legislation, and institutions that allow them to be caught.

Yet according to NOAA/NMFS, the status of our fisheries obviously involves only the fish. With over 2,300 words in the 2017 annual report linked above, by my count only 75 of those words did not relate solely to the fish or to the condition of those fish. Those few are:

Combined, U.S. commercial and recreational saltwater fishing generated more than $208 billion in sales and
supported 1.6 million jobs in 2015…. The need to increase our nation’s seafood production is a continuing and
growing challenge…. NOAA Fisheries is focusing on a number of activities aimed at leveling the playing field for
our domestic seafood industry. These include increasing seafood trade opportunities and market access so that
we can remain competitive with other seafood exporting countries….

That’s it!

While this should be slightly less than a surprise to anyone in, associated or familiar with the commercial fishing industry, it’s fairly obvious that the federal agency that is supposedly concerned with the management of all facets – human and piscine – of our fisheries has pretty effective blinders on when it comes to “managing” anything but the fish. And going a step further, that management has as its overriding goal the health (or sustainability if you would rather) of those fish. The rest, which should include the welfare of the fishermen and all of the businesses that are directly or indirectly fisheries dependent, doesn’t matter to NOAA/NMFS – and apparently NOAA/NMFS has decided that it shouldn’t matter to Con- gress – or to the citizens of the U.S. – either.

So Congress gets an annual rundown on the well-being, by species and en masse, of the fish in U.S. waters and virtually nothing about the well-being of the other components of the fisheries; the people who and the businesses that catch, pro- cess, buy, sell and eat them.

In light of this (purposely?) myopic vision of our fisheries, how are we to gauge how well the people at NOAA/NMFS are doing one of their primary jobs, managing our fisheries, by using a more inclusive definition of the term? I doubt that anyone reading this would be surprised by the answer “not so easily.”

Each year NOAA/NMFS also publishes Fisheries of the United States, the most recent being for 2017 ( In the words of NOAA/NMFS:

Fisheries of the United States, published each fall, has been produced in its various forms for more than 100 years. It is the NOAA Fisheries yearbook of fishery statistics for the United States. It provides a snapshot of data, primarily at the national level, on U.S. recreational catch and commercial fisheries landings and value.

In addition, data are reported on U.S. aquaculture production, the U.S. seafood processing industry, imports and exports of fishery-related products, and domestic supply and per capita consumption of fishery products. The focus is not on economic analysis, although value of landings, processed products, and foreign trade are included.

Each annual Fisheries of the United States report contains a wealth of information on commercial landings for the year of publication and the previous year (i.e. the 2017 report has commercial landings for 2017 and 2016) and in a few in- stances goes back slightly farther.

However, a one or two year snapshot doesn’t show much about fisheries trends, or about the success – at least from a fishing industry perspective – of management efforts. And said most simply, though anti-intuitively, the status of the fish stocks no longer has an awful lot to do with the status of the human components of the fishery.

But, and this might come as surprise to most federal and state fisheries managers, there are other measures of how well they are doing at managing our fisheries, and among the most important is – or should be – how well the fishermen and those in fishing dependent businesses, who once were supposed to be much of the reason for spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars each year on fisheries management, are doing.

When is the last time that anyone from the Fed asked you how you were doing? And when was the last time that you saw any federal pronouncements dealing with how well the fishermen, the lumpers, the processors, the sellers, the truckers or anyone else whose life depends on fishing, were doing?

So why all of the graphs going back to 1950?

There are unquestionably a number of ways in which the success/satisfaction of people in the fishing industry can be measured. I’ve picked, however, the most simple; the value of annual landings in a particular fishery compared to the value of previous years’ landings in that fishery.

Particularly in this age of limited access, the luxury of being able to switch to other fisheries is one that only a very few fishermen can afford. Hence what you “earned” in prior years in a particular fishery should generally be a reasonable measure of how well you’ve done subsequently. (The volatility in the price per pound in some fisheries makes the weight of fish landed less important to the fishermen than the value of their catch. The generalization that most fishermen are fishing for money is usually accurate.)

Accordingly I looked at the catch value estimates from the NOAA/NMFS Commercial landings database at To allow realistic year-to-year comparisons, I corrected the value of each year’s landings for inflation, expressing them in 2017 dollars by using the US inflation calculator at All of the graphs were done with Microsoft Excel 2010. (Initially I’m limiting this to Atlantic coast landings. The same data is available for the Gulf of Mexico, Pacific and Alas-
ka fisheries but I’ll keep an Atlantic focus here.)

The total value of Atlantic commercial landings was determined by multiplying the annual values of “All Species Combined” from each year from 1950 to 2017 by the appropriate inflation correction. The value of all species combined in 1950 was three hundred and thirty-six million dollars, which using the inflation calculator linked above yields the equivalent of three billion four hundred and twenty million dollars in 2017.

Because I am comparing individual fisheries that had annual landings ranging from hundreds of thousands to hundreds of millions of dollars, I graphed annual landings (of individual fisheries as well as total fisheries combined) as a percentage of the maximum landings. For example, the inflation corrected maximum value of all landings was $2,249,921,045 in 1979, represented by 100% in Chart 1. It was $1,969,770,533 in 2017, 88% of the maximum.

The average for total Atlantic landings from 1950 to 2017 when corrected for inflation was $1,888,500,000, which was below the 2017 landings maximum. All things considered, in 2017 being 4% above the yearly average value of landings since well before Magnuson management began (the Act became law in 1976) seems fairly decent management performance.

But unfortunately for many fishermen and people in fishing dependent businesses, the devil is in the details, and not too surprisingly – at least to those of us familiar with the commercial fishing industry on the East coast – those details present a picture much less rosy than the bigger picture up above.

As Chart 2 below shows, The American lobster and sea scallop fisheries, currently the two most valuable fisheries on the
East coast, when corrected for inflation have each more than doubled in value since the passage of the Magnuson Act.

Conversely the combined landings in all of the other fisheries have been just about halved in the same period. As Chart 3 below shows, the booms in the lobster and scallop fisheries haven’t been accompanied by corresponding booms in many of the other fisheries. In fact the situations in some of those fisheries can best be described as busts.

Chart 3 shows the value of all Atlantic coast landings minus lobsters and sea scallops. This indicates a relatively steady decline since the peak of one point six billion dollars (inflation corrected) in 1979. The minimum of seven hundred and sixteen million dollars was landed in 2009 and there has been a slight increase since then, but in 2017 landings minus sea scallops and lobster were less than 60% of what they were at their peak.

These two charts tell a fairly sad story about most of the Atlantic coast commercial fishing industry since the passage of the Magnuson Act, at least as far as the “management” part is concerned. Thanks to a fortuitous confluence of factors, what were the two most valuable fisheries on the U.S. east coast were still the most valuable in 2017 and their relative values have more than doubled, but for most of the other fisheries this is far from case.

Below are charts for the twenty four Atlantic coast fisheries that were most valuable Atlantic coast fisheries – both finfish and shellfish – in 2017 (the catch-all category “Shellfish,” which was the 15th most valuable, was omitted). Of the seventeen most valuable finfish fisheries, the value of three relatively minor commercial fisheries – striped bass,

American eel and black sea bass – have had landings that have increased in value since the passage of the Act, and “modern” fisheries management began in the late 1970s. The remaining fourteen have decreased in value, and most have in fact plummeted.

Of the thirteen shellfish fisheries only six could be described as plummeting in value, the other seven appearing to have increased significantly (though the two squid fisheries and the Jonah crab fisheries are new fisheries which were insignificant pre-Magnuson).

(Note that the reported value of the Atlantic herring catch from 2004 to 2006 appear to be anomalous. However, my query to NOAA/NMFS regarding possible reasons for this wasn’t responded to. I have also included several species which, while “historically” important were no longer in the most valuable 25 fisheries in 2017.)

Does this bode well for our Atlantic fisheries? Not hardly. Two fisheries are accounting for about 50% of the total value of landings. What’s going to happen if either the sea scallop or the lobster fishery suffers a significant setback? How much of the Atlantic coast commercial fishing infrastructure depends on the continued success (and growth?) in these two fisheries, and do any alternatives exist if they become necessary?

So while it’s well and good that the Federal agency that is charged with managing our fisheries is becoming fairly proficient at blowing its own horn (see The Surprising Story of Swordfish You May Not Know at, though I have to wonder why it took over twenty years to get this story out) and giving the fishing industry well-deserved and too often long-overdue credit for “above and beyond” conservation efforts*, if at any point the bottom drops out of the Atlantic sea scallop or lobster fisheries, are the people at NOAA/NMFS preparing for such eventualities?

Good for the fish? For sure!

Good for the fishermen (or anyone whose paycheck depends in all or in part on their efforts) or for fresh, local seafood lovers? You be the judge!

*I’ll draw your attention to Atlantic swordfish landings – see Chart 7 above. The maximum inflation corrected
value for domestic landings was almost $105 million in 1992. In 2017 it was down to $17.5 million. The fact is
that recent landings are on the order of less than 20% of what they were during the peak years of the fishery, and
yet the fishery is being considered – by NOAA/NMFS, the responsible management agency – as a management
success. And similar plunges from record landings values in the first years of Magnuson management to 25% or
less of the post-Magnuson maximum is seen in Atlantic coast fishery after fishery.

Nils Stolpe, Fishnet USA – So how are we doing? (2017 edition) A Report on our Domestic Commercial Fishing Industry

I occasionally share my impressions of how the domestic commercial fishing industry is doing, using as my primary data source the NMFS online database “Annual Commercial Landing Statistics” (click here). We are fortunate to have these extensive records of commercial landings of fish and shellfish in the United States extending back to 1950 because they allow a fairly comprehensive view of long term industry (and resource) trends. Among the most useful statistics are those dealing with the value and weight of the total landings for each year. Together they give an overview of how the domestic fishing industry is progressing (or regressing) from year to year. Click here to read the report 11:49

Nils Stolpe – So how are we doing? (2017 edition) A Report on our Domestic Commercial Fishing Industry


June 30, 2017 Nils Stolpe,

I occasionally share my impressions of how the domestic commercial fishing industry is doing, using as my primary data source the NMFS online database “Annual Commercial Landing Statistics” at are fortunate to have these extensive records of commercial landings of fish and shellfish in the United States extending back to 1950 because they allow a fairly comprehensive view of long term industry (and resource) trends.

Among the most useful statistics are those dealing with the value and weight of the total landings for each year. Together they give an overview of how the domestic fishing industry is progressing (or regressing) from year to year. I’ve tried to incorporate that in the chart below, but rather than using the specific weights and dollars I converted them to the percentages of the maximum weights and dollars (and corrected the value of landings for each year for inflation using the US Inflation Calculator at As an example, the cumulative rate of inflation between 1950 and 2015 is 983%. Thus the $336,266,187 of fish and shellfish landings reported in 1950 was worth $3,307,087,254 in 2015 dollars.


From a weight-of-landings perspective it looks as if the commercial fishing industry nationally isn’t doing too badly. Unfortunately that isn’t the case from an income perspective, with recent landings being in the range of from under 60% to approaching 80% of 1979, the peak year for value of landings (at almost $4.5 billion when adjusted for inflation).

Each year’s weight and (corrected) value is represented by its percentage of the maximum weight (4,752,254 metric tons in 1994) and maximum value ($7,418,658,938 in 1979). This allows for fairly accurate year-to-year comparisons.

At the macro-level this chart shows that U.S. commercial landings have dropped in the neighborhood of 5% below their maximum level of production in 1994. However, the value of those landings appears to have declined at a significantly greater rate. The value of the landings in the year with the peak weight was only 80% of the maximum value of landings, and that relationship appears to have continued and for the most part increased. It’s safe to say that over the last quarter of a century domestic fishermen have been catching more for a significantly smaller return.

This could at least partially be a function of a relative increase in the production of lower value fish, or of market pressures (as it’s illustrated below, consider the extraordinary growth of the domestic tilapia demand and its possible market impacts on domestically produced seafood).


(From Fitzsimmons, K., Tilapia Aquaculture 2016, Eleventh International Symposium on Tilapia in Aquaculture,,

But of course the national performance doesn’t mean much to the many businesses that are dependent on one or several fisheries.

Getting more specific, I have charted the weight and inflation adjusted value of the twenty-five most valuable domestic fisheries as of 2015. To list them in order of descending value, they are American lobster, walleye pollock, sea scallops, Pacific cod, blue crabs, sockeye salmon, eastern oysters, Atlantic menhaden, snow crabs, pink salmon, Pacific halibut, sablefish, Dungeness crabs, king crabs, bigeye tuna, chum salmon, chinook salmon, Pacific geoducks, northern quahogs, spiny lobsters, Atka mackerel, tanner crabs, Pacific oysters, stone crab (claws) and yellowfin sole (all of these charts are available in a Adobe Acrobat document at

Thus, Atlantic menhaden, one of our largest fisheries, had maximum landings of 1.36 million metric tons in 1983 valued at 290 million dollars (in 2015 dollars) while the maximum value landed was in 1973 for 850 thousand metric tons valued at just over $400 thousand (again in 2015 dollars). Atlantic Menhaden Landings in 2015 were 740 thousand metric tons, valued at just under $180 thousand. This was 45% 0f the maximum weight of Atlantic menhaden landed and was worth 54% of the maximum value.

The table below lists the 25 most valuable fisheries for 1950 (the earliest year for which catch data is available on the Commercial Landings web site), 1980 (post-Magnuson), 2006 (post-SFA) and 2015 (the most recent year with landings data available). The landed value is reported for the particular year as well as that value adjusted for inflation (“2015 Value”). Ten fisheries have consistently been in the top twenty-five. These are in colored cells.

(Note that because of naming inconsistences the various shrimp groups were omitted. Among our most valuable fisheries, if they were included a number of them would have been listed in the top 25 for at least one of the four years and several for more than one year.)

Looking at the performance of the top 25 fisheries, generalizations seem to be pretty hard to come by. Some are and have be trending upward fairly steadily since the fishery began (bigeye tuna, American lobster), some trending steadily downward (Eastern oysters until oyster aquaculture got serious, king crab since the peak production), many a significant decline in the last decade or so

(Dungeness crab, king crab, chinook salmon, northern quahogs, sablefish, halibut), and others are impossible to categorize, seeming to vary randomly. If only the last ten years – since the SFA was passed, it appears to be about a tie between winners and losers (with the winners slightly in the lead) as far as production is concerned.


The chart below indicates the great range in the value of landings in the four years selected in various “top 25” fisheries. Note that the 1950 value was at or approaching peak levels in six fisheries as it was in the immediate post-Magnuson period (1980). The wide variations could be caused by resource/environmental, economic or political factors, or any combination, but they make clear the lack of stability in many of our fisheries – and are a good argument for the difficulty (futility?) of attempting to manage for anything like a “constant harvest” unless the harvest is reduced to such an extent that natural cycling becomes the overwhelmingly dominant population determinant.

The situation in the Mid-Atlantic

I treated what I consider the fourteen major ocean-based fisheries in the Mid-Atlantic region as I did the national “top 25.” Then I went one step beyond that and graphed only the last ten years – again as percentages of the peak production of each fishery since 1950. I also included linear trend lines for both the weight and the (inflation corrected) values of the landings. The values of landings are in blue and the weights in red (go to

Eight of the fourteen fisheries have had both production and value trending down for the past decade and two, sea scallops and loligo squid, haves had production heading down but value increasing. Considering the ongoing major cuts in the summer flounder TAC I have no doubt that as soon as the 2016 landings are included they will be heading downward as well. Over 70% of the Mid-Atlantic fisheries will be in a state of decline.

So what does this all mean?

Beyond what seems to be the inescapable conclusion that if maximizing production is the goal we aren’t doing a particularly good job managing our fisheries, at this point your guess is at least as good as mine. Based on what seemed to be some inconsistencies in summer flounder trawl survey/landings data post-SFA (see, over the next month I am planning on examining how indices of abundance (aka surveys) relate to landings in particular fisheries – again with a focus on Mid-Atlantic/Northeastern fisheries. Perhaps this additional data will contribute to a more clear picture of what’s going on in some of our fisheries and in their management.

In 2015 the National Marine Fisheries Service Commercial Landings database reported on 485 species/fisheries. The most valuable of these fisheries, that for American lobster, landed 66,500 metric tons worth $620 million at the dock. The least valuable, that for leather skin (, reportedly landed 4 pounds worth $8. The walleye pollack fishery, the largest in 2015, produced over 3.2 billion pounds. The leather skin made the list as the smallest fishery as well. Domestic fisheries may be managed by international organizations, tribal councils, federal, state or local agencies, or combinations of these groups. Domestic fish and shellfish can be caught by multi-million dollar state-of-the-art fishing vessels or folks slogging around on mud flats with shovels and buckets (I have no idea how the 4 pounds of leather skin were caught). The landed value of domestically produced fish and shellfish ranges from pennies to tens of dollars per pound (the 2.6 million pounds of Pacific geoduck returned $56 million to the producers). And there is – to me, at least – a surprising inconsistency in year-to-year landings in virtually all fisheries.

The domestic commercial fishing industry could best be described as diverse, and deciding how to characterize its performance over time was a bit of a challenge. Taking into account the fact that in 2015 the 25 most valuable fisheries accounted for 78% of the value of the total landings, I decided to focus on these top fisheries. Considering that the weight produced in particular fisheries could vary by several orders of magnitude compared to other fisheries, the weights landed are expressed as percentages of the maximum landed weights reported. All of the landings values have been corrected for inflation, using 2015 equivalents and are also presented as percentages of maximum (corrected) value. This should allow for useful year-to-year comparisons within and between particular fisheries.

The Excel spreadsheet containing all of the data I used for this FishNet is just under a megabyte in size. If you wish a copy, email me at [email protected]

Nils Stolpe: What’s so hard about managing fisheries?

Nils Stolpe/FishNet USA May 3, 2017

“We live in a world in which data convey authority. But authority has a way of descending to certitude, and certitude begets hubris. From Robert McNamara to Lehman Brothers to Stronger Together, cautionary tales abound. We ought to know this by now, but we don’t. Instead, we respond to the inherent uncertainties of data by adding more data without revisiting our assumptions, creating an impression of certainty that can be lulling, misleading and often dangerous. Ask Clinton” Stephens, B., Climate of Complete Certainty, NY Times, 4/28/17.

The above quote was from an op-ed piece by Bret Stephens, the New York Times’ recently acquired columnist. While he was targeting climate scientists, their “disciples” and the overblown pseudo-science hidden beneath an oversufficiency of less than convincing statistics that is used to strengthen their arguments, it appears that fisheries scientists are increasingly adopting the same techniques (the emphasis is mine) to support their often erroneous – sometimes sadly so – conclusions.

“NMFS proposes revised black sea bass specifications for the 2017 fishing year and projected specifications for 2018. In addition, this rule proposes to remove an accountability measure implemented at the start of the fishing year designed to account for commercial sector overages in 2015. Updated scientific information regarding the black sea bass stock indicates that higher catch limits should be implemented to obtain optimum yield, and that the accountability measure is no longer necessary or appropriate…. The (Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management) Council and the (Atlantic States Marine Fisheries) Commission’s Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Management Board met jointly on February 15, 2017, to consider the SSC and Monitoring Committees’ recommendations…. The Council’s recommendations represent a 53-percent increase in the 2017 commercial quota established in 2015 and a 52-percent increase in the 2017 recreational harvest limit. (from Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Black Sea Bass Fishery; 2017 and Projected 2018 Specifications, Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 71 / Friday, April 14, 2017 / Proposed Rules).

The above adjustment would apply to black sea bass, an important commercial and recreational fishery in the Mid-Atlantic. When it is implemented  the value of the commercial black sea bass fishery in the Northeast, based on 2015 across-the-dock prices, would be in the neighborhood of $15 million. In 2015 the value of the commercial black sea bass fishery in the Northeast was approximately $4.5 million. Before the results of the new stock assessment, the impetus for the above adjustment, were available the commercial landings for 2017 were set to be under $7 million.

The recreational fishery will get a comparable increase.

Summer flounder, black sea bass and scup are all managed under the same fishery management plan, which with amendments has been going on for almost 30 years.

Last autumn I described in Summer Flounder Management – Can it get any worse? (available at how another important mid-Atlantic fishery over the same period was subject to a greater than 50% quota cut over a two year period. And, like the black sea bass quota, though with much less desirable results, the quota change was mandated with minimal lead time.

Imagine what the effects of these drastic changes in supply in these fisheries have been/will be on the people, the businesses and the communities that depend on them. I doubt that the federal government could come up with any other management strategy, short of an out and out harvest moratorium, that would be more damaging to fishing and fishing dependent businesses. Successful businesses depend on predictability; predictable supplies at predictable prices and with predictable markets, and in fisheries the federal government has been far to capable of delivering unpredictability since the passage of the Sustainable Fisheries Act in1996. In certain fisheries unpredictability seems to be the rule rather than the exception.

Fisheries management minus the overblown science, bureaucratic bluster and ENGO manipulation

In theory, there’s not much involved in effective fisheries management. All that’s required is the wherewithal to accurately estimate the condition of the fish/shellfish stock or stock complex you are managing on an annual basis, an accurate determination of the fishing mortality you will allow, and a mechanism to maintain, increase or decrease the mortality level dependent on the following fishing year’s mortality.

Obviously this management scenario assumes that there is a relationship between the status of the stock being managed and the fishing mortality, perhaps not expressed immediately but surely after a lag time of a year or two (arguably that’s not always the case, but that’s a whole other story).

But, as the current summer flounder/black sea bass situation so clearly demonstrates, today this is far beyond the capabilities of our federal fisheries managers and our federal fisheries management system.

Back to summer flounder (yet another Never Ending Story)

Let’s use summer flounder management as an example of what supposed “state of the art” fisheries management looks like. Below I’ve graphed the results of the summer flounder component of the Northeast Spring and Autumn Bottom Trawl Surveys – supposedly one of the best (i.e. most accurate/longest running) fish surveys we’ve got ( I’ve also graphed the summer flounder landings from the NMFS on-line landings database ( for the past 40+ years. (The commercial landings and the survey results are expressed as percentages of the maximum survey catch – 2008 – and the maximum landings  – 1979 –  for the period).

Below are charts of landings and survey results in three logical periods based on what have to be considered as revolutionary changes in how we manage or don’t manage fisheries. These are pre-Magnuson (Figure 1 below), post-Magnuson/pre-Sustainable Fisheries Act (Figure 2) and post-Sustainable Fisheries Act (Figure 3). Blue are survey samples (as the % of the maximum survey sample weight in the respective period) and red are landings (as the % of the maximum landings weight in the respective period).

Using linear trend lines a la MS Excel, there appear to be relationships between the bottom trawl survey results and harvest for summer flounder prior to the passage of the Magnuson Act in 1976 (survey catch and commercial landings both increase) and post-Magnuson/pre Sustainable Fisheries Act (survey catch and commercial landings both decrease). In the period following the passage of the Sustainable Fisheries Act in 1996 the survey results increase dramatically while commercial landings remain flat.

Since the beginning of the annual Northeast bottom trawl surveys and commercial landings tracking began (at least until the Sustainable Fisheries Act was passed in 1996) there’s been an apparent relationship between the estimated summer flounder population size and the harvest. At first – Fig. 1 above – from 1968 to 1975 and with minimal management measures, the population increased and the landings increased correspondingly. Then in 1976 – Fig. 2 – with the advent of Magnuson management and with an increase in effort that came about in just about every federally managed fishery because of its provisions, the population decreased and the landings followed suit. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. But as Fig. 3 above indicates, since the SFA was enacted it no longer works that way. The weight of the summer flounder sampled, hence the biomass, has increased steadily and seemingly consistently in spite of the switch from the R/V Albatross to the R/V Bigelow, yet landings have remained flat.

(I’ll note here that I have had a request in to the survey people at the NOAA/NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center for two months or so for survey results for other northeastern fish species but have yet to receive anything in return other than an acknowledgement that the request was received.)

While it might be ill-advised to generalize from a single FMP, some things seem apparent

First off, and possibly most importantly, after the passage of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and before the passage of the Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA) the Regional Fisheries Management Councils had significant latitude in interpreting the information that was presented to them from the scientific/academic community and the “anecdotal” input from people knowledgeable in fisheries on both sides of the Council table. On-the-water observations and (sometimes multi-generational) knowledge wasn’t automatically discounted as it is far too often of late. The Councils’ job was to consider all of the information presented to them and to determine their management strategy accordingly (bear in mind that both then and now the Councils only made/make recommendations to the Secretary of Commerce, who has been and still is ultimately responsible for management decisions).

Since 1996 and the SFA, management has been completely different – though as Fig. 3 above seems to indicate, it certainly hasn’t been more effective, at least from what used to be the acceptable “if there are more fish, fishermen should be allowed to catch more” pre-SFA perspective. Now scientists have much more input and much more influence, learned judgment, which is still referred to deprecatingly as “anecdotal information” takes a far back seat, and statistics, no matter how inadequate, reign.

Hence the huge, and costly, changes in management parameters based on reassessments and reinterpretations and “uncertainty” penalties. Looking at summer flounder and black sea bass, the scientists appear to be clueless from year to year and yet luxuriate in a system in which the only accountability is borne by the fishermen.

As I have written before, what passes for fisheries management in the U.S. today has been purposefully distorted by anti-fishing activists (misrepresenting themselves as marine conservationists) into a top-heavy bureaucratic system that is focused almost completely on preventing “overfishing,” regardless of the effects this monomaniacal focus has on domestic fishermen and domestic fishing businesses. In the distorted view of these “conservationists,” overfishing should be classified as one of the Cardinal sins, and there should be no acceptable excuse for allowing it to happen in any of our domestic fisheries.

The end result of their successful selling of this view to the unknowledgeable is totally unrealistic harvest restrictions which make it increasingly difficult – and increasingly, impossible – for domestic fishermen to remain in business. And not too surprisingly, of having over 90% of the seafood sold in the U.S. being imported.

To give you an idea of what constitutes federal fisheries management today, the post-SFA managers will start out with the determination of the Overfishing Limit (OFL) in a fishery. The OFL is equivalent to the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY), the maximum amount of fish that can be sustainably harvested from a given stock of fish.

But the OFL is then reduced to what is termed the Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC). This is the OFL reduced by “Scientific Uncertainty.”

Scientific uncertainty refers to uncertainty in the information about a stock and its maximum sustainable yield reference points. Sources of scientific uncertainty could include: uncertainty in stock assessment results; uncertainty in the estimates of maximum fishing mortality threshold, maximum stock size threshold, the biomass of the stock, and overfishing limit; time lags in updating assessments; the degree of retrospective revision of assessment results; uncertainty in projections; uncertainties due to the choice of assessment model; longer-term uncertainties due to potential ecosystem and environmental effects; or other factors (

Then the ABC is further reduced by management uncertainty to the Annual Catch Target (ACT).

Management uncertainty refers to uncertainty in the ability of managers to constrain catch so that the annual catch limit is not exceeded, and the uncertainty in quantifying the true catch amounts (i.e., estimation errors). The sources of management uncertainty could include: late catch reporting; misreporting; underreporting of catches; lack of sufficient in-season management, including in-season closure authority; or other factors (ibid.).
So, because the various individuals, agencies and organizations aren’t particularly good at what they do, the harvest is just about always reduced to far under the MSY level. And then, following what is termed a “retrospective analysis,” it may be reduced even farther. Quoting from the Summer Flounder Stock Assessment Update for 2016 (

The consistent pattern in the underestimation of F (Fishing Mortality) and the overestimation of SSB (Spawning Stock Biomass) noted for the last several terminal years has continued. Moderate internal model retrospective patterns in F and SSB are evident in the updated assessment model, as the average retrospective errors over the last 7 terminal years are -20% and +11%, about twice as large as the magnitude of the 2013 SAW 57 retrospective errors.

The Chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) wrote in a July 26, 2016 memo “the revised understanding of the stock status produced by the assessment update indicates reductions in the estimates of SSB (spawning stock biomass), and increases in the estimates of annual Fs (fishing mortality).”  Naturally, the way the management system was biased against fishermen and fishing dependent businesses in 1996 in the SFA, this necessitated an immediate and as drastic as necessary correction. So, because the scientists presumably got it wrong in 2013 and then presumably got it right, (or, as the SSC Chairman wrote, developed a “revised understanding”) in 2016 the summer flounder harvest was reduced 27% for the 2016 fishing year and 31% for the 2017 fishing year.

If it was only summer flounder…

In tabular form for four major mid-Atlantic fisheries the reductions from the MSY for 2017 in millions of pounds are as follows (the MSY of Black Sea Bass wasn’t determined so the percentage of the ABC was used. The chart was compiled before the increase in the black sea bass harvest was proposed):

For these four mid-Atlantic fisheries the Total Harvest ranges from slightly over half (56%) to two thirds of the Maximum Sustainable yield.

Assuming an average value of $2.50 per pound for the four listed species, the fact that the scientists and managers aren’t particularly effective at counting fish in the ocean or on the dock will cost the mid-Atlantic fishing industry over $60 million in 2017. Assuming that a pound of recreationally caught fish is as valuable as a commercially caught fish and assuming a 5:1 multiplier for economic activity generated by fish landings, that’s a third of a billion dollars lost to the coastal economy in the Mid-Atlantic and Southern New England in a single year in only four fisheries.

How well is the summer flounder, scup and black sea bass FMP working?

“Since 1987, when the Summer Flounder, Scup and Seabass Fishery Management Plan was approved by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, a series of at least 100 meetings resulted in more than 8,000 typed pages devoted largely (but not exclusively) to summer flounder management. Assuming at least a dozen attendees at each of those meetings, a two day investment of time, travel expenses and etc. by the participants and the cost of writing, editing and distributing those 8,000 plus pages, the cost to the taxpayers must be well into six figures.” (From Summer Flounder Management – can it get any worse? at

After almost 30 years of intensive management, in two consecutive years the federal managers – bureaucrats and scientists – missed, or determined that they had missed, the condition of two of the three stocks being managed in the FMP by such a wide margin that in one the allowable harvest had to be cut by more than half and in the other the harvest had to be doubled. In case you missed it the first time, that’s after almost 30 years of intensive management! Not much onward and upward there, is there?

And what about underfishing?

And then there are the harvest restrictions that come into play after the allowable harvests are determined by accounting for scientific and management uncertainty. These generally involve the cessation of harvesting of a target species because of the incidental catch of other species (bycatch of so-called “choke species”) in that fishery. The chart below shows what the Annual Catch Limits were for the species managed under the New England Fishery Management Council’s Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan in 2015. In fishing years 2011 to 2015 New England fishermen caught between 29% (in 2015) and 39% (in 2011) of what they potentially could have caught but didn’t because of the bycatch of “choke” species reaching their limits or because of lack of markets for the targeted species ( In 2015, with a potential catch of 79 thousand metric tons, just over 23 thousand metric tons were harvested from these stocks. Of that total harvest only 21 thousand tons were retained by the fishermen and almost 2,000 metric tons were released or discarded. This left 27% of the total allowable catch to support the remnants of one of our oldest and most culturally significant fisheries.

Because of artificial restrictions on harvesting, perhaps half of what would be the total, scientifically justified (before scientific and management uncertainties are allowed for) allowable catch remains unharvested each year. In the Northeast the value of landings in 2015 were $1.5 billion, using a 5:1 multiplier generating on the order of $7.5 billion in economic activity. It’s plain that those landings could approach $3 billion, generating $15 billion in economic activity, 1) if fisheries scientists were better at estimating fish population , 2) if the slight risk of overfishing was accepted each year and effective provisions for dealing with that risk in one or two subsequent years were mandated, and 3) if the totally nonsensical idea that even inconsequential species should be at levels that would allow for their harvesting at MSY levels was discarded, to be replaced by the requirement that their harvesting wouldn’t threaten the continuation of the species.

Do you think a fresh start might be indicated?

Reduced to an elementary level, what if the summer flounder allowable catch in the Northeast was set at the Maximum Sustainable Yield/Overfishing Limit of 16.76 million pounds rather than at the “safe” level (allowing for scientific and management uncertainty) of 9.43 million pounds? There is a probability that the 16.76 million pounds would be a safe level of harvest – no overfishing. There is also a probability that that level of harvest would allow overfishing.

If there was no overfishing everything would be fine. If there was overfishing the amount by which the quota was exceeded would simply be deducted from the quota for the next year (or the next two or three years). There would be no loss; the summer flounder fishery would be ahead by 6 million pounds or so – $15 million to the industry and $75 million in increased economic activity spread out from North Carolina to Southern Massachusetts. Reducing a quota for one year because the quota was exceeded in the previous year is something that’s regularly done in various federally managed fisheries. It isn’t anything like a big deal, but rather is a routine adjustment. Is there a difference if the quota is set at the MST/OFL level instead of millions of pounds less than that? Except for the lost income there isn’t.

And this isn’t a problem that is restricted to the Northeast (see Ray Hilborn’s comment on West Coast groundfish on the CFood website (

How fisheries management could (should?) work

The initial step in every fishery would be the design of a species-specific sampling/assessment process by a panel of stake holders and scientists. With the results of this process in hand an initial TAC would be set and initial management measures designed allowing this TAC to be caught would be put in place. In each subsequent year the stock would be assessed and the TAC would be adjusted accordingly (if assessment results were lower the TAC would be decreased, if higher the TAC would be increased, if the same the TAC would remain unchanged).

Considering the spectacularly inadequate performance of the existing assessment/management process – severe underfishing in fishery after fishery, huge harvest adjustments in either direction because of “retrospective analyses” or “revised understandings” – could such a simple system perform more poorly? It would certainly be more affordable, in all likelihood it would be more acceptable to the resource users, it would definitely be more understandable to the public, and think of all of the bureaucratic/scientific salaries and all of the trees that would be saved.

Each year thousands of tons of finfish and shellfish remain unharvested because of a totally unjustified fear of overfishing, a fear that has been created by the anti-fishing community with the complicity of bureaucrats, scientists and politicians who are orders of magnitude more concerned with avoiding the slightest hint of overfishing than they are with the vitality of our fishing industry.

It’s time that we treated overfishing for what it really is. It isn’t a precursor to extinction or a threat to sustainability, it’s a fisheries management misstep that, with proper safeguards in place, will be obviated in a year or two with absolutely no permanent or even lasting damage to our stocks of finfish and shellfish. The only damage – if it could be considered as such – would be due to the long overdue recognition of the redundancy of the doom-predicting anti-fishing activists who have built careers and bureaucracies on preventing overfishing.

Nils Stolpe – Summer Flounder Management – Can it get any worse?

Summer flounder, also known as fluke, support recreational and commercial fisheries that are among the most important in the mid-Atlantic and southern New England. They have been a mainstay of recreational fishermen either from their own boats or on for-hire vessels, support a large directed commercial fishery, their incidental harvest is important in other fisheries and they are near the top of the list of must-have meals for summer visits to the shore. Hundreds of party and charter boats depend on them for all or for part of their annual incomes, thousands of private boats seek them out every summer, and much of the business bait and tackle shops do every year depends on the fishery. Hundreds of commercial fishing boats target them or take them incidentally in other fisheries.,, The summer flounder stock has gone from having the highest biomass in 50 years to being on the verge of overfishing in the five years between 2011 and 2016. While no one seems to know why the management program hadn’t been working, the SSC did come up with several possibilities. These included “sources of (fishing) mortality that are not fully accounted in the assessment. These could include under-estimation of discards in both the commercial and recreational fisheries and lower estimates of mortality rates applied to the discards than are actually occurring.” Read the full article here 15:27

Nils Stolpe: Marine Monuments – Don’t let your piece of the ocean be next!

No-Fishing-e1449493453695In an effort coordinated by the National Coalition for Fishing Communities (NCFC), thirty four domestic fishing industry trade groups have signed on to a letter to President Obama opposing a strong push by environmental groups and the billion dollar foundations that support them to create marine sanctuaries on both coasts during his last days in office. I don’t need to tell you how much industry effort has been expended over the last several decades to make fishery management under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act an effective and transparent science-based process. Anyone with an interest in our domestic fisheries, whether on the water, in a shore-based fishing-dependent business or in any way associated with fishing should be committed to improving this process, and President Obama is being urged to circumvent it to bolster his “environmental legacy.” Yesterday the White House announced that the President will be expanding the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument off Hawaii, which was originally created by President Bush in 2006. This will be a no-fishing zone of over half a million square miles. Needless to say, it’s a big hit with the enviros, but it was done without any public process.

The letter, with a list of the fishing organizations that are on board so far, is at a web portal set up by the NCFC > Click Here <. Even if you are a member of one of those organizations, please take the few minutes required to personally sign. If you are in a fishing organization that hasn’t, please encourage the leadership to do so. And please encourage as many other folks as possible. The time for top-down governmental dictates was over years ago. We have a system that is starting to work both for the fishermen and the fish and we can’t let it be short circuited. There’s too much at risk.

Nils Stolpe: MPA’s – ENGOs and Foundations next attempt to halt fishing – Déjà vu all over again

Pew her masters voiceBack in 2002, when various groups and people had figured out that the creation of things called marine protected areas (MPAs) could be sold politically as a mechanism for “saving the oceans,” the people at the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Conservation Law Foundation hired a marketing firm, Edge Research, to demonstrate that New Englanders and Maritime Canadians would be firmly behind using them to put even more fishermen out of work. Well, borrowing from a line made popular by the late Heather O’Rourke in the movie Poltergeist II, they’re back! Only this time they’re trying to convince the Obama White House that two areas off the New England coast are deserving of protection in perpetuity by being designated as National Monuments. Read the rest here 11:36

Nils Stolpe

ENGOs and Foundations next attempt to halt fishing – Déjà vu all over again

Nils Stolpe, Fishnet USA

Back in 2002, when various groups and people had figured out that the creation of things called marine protected areas (MPAs) could be sold politically as a mechanism for “saving the oceans,” the people at the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Conservation Law Foundation hired a marketing firm, Edge Research, to demonstrate that New Englanders and Maritime Canadians would be firmly behind using them to put even more fishermen out of work. They used what they termed “public opinion polling” to demonstrate this. I devoted a couple of thousand words to a critique on this exercise, and that FishNet is available at  Replies from Sara Clark Stuart at the Conservation Law Foundation and from Lisa Dropkin at Edge Research (to which I added additional comments) are at

Well, borrowing from a line made popular by the late Heather O’Rourke in the movie Poltergeist II, they’re back! Only this time they’re trying to convince the Obama White House that two areas off the New England coast are deserving of protection in perpetuity by being designated as National Monuments.

Needless to say, their campaign to do this comes with the to be expected major PR campaign, getting as much mileage as possible from what appears to be saturation-level social media manipulation and another Edge Research “strategic marketing survey.”

One of the more clever things in this most recent bout of “market research” was the lumping of mining, drilling and fishing together. This seems to me to be tantamount to asking people how they feel about crimes committed by “murderers, rapists and shop lifters.” After the recent (and very possibly still ongoing) BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico we all have a pretty accurate idea of what the potential downsides are to drilling in the oceans, and who hasn’t seen pictures of huge open pit mines (if you are one of the few who hasn’t, Google “open pit mine” and click on images)? Not in our ocean, huh?

But can anyone make a rational connection between mining, drilling and fishing? Is there any comparison between the gross negligence practiced by our federal regulators and the offshore oil industry and a fleet of fishing boats working sustainably to provide our consumers with healthful seafood? Can tearing down mountains and creating holes that rival the Grand Canyon be equated with the “damage” done by hooks and nets? Not in the real world, for sure. But in the fantasy ocean world that mega-foundation millions are being spent to create there’s apparently no difference – or the people who have been bought by those foundation’s millions want everyone to believe there isn’t.

In a memo presenting their survey results and their conclusions the people at Edge Research write “while there is currently no drilling and mining in these areas, there is some commercial fishing activity. Protecting these areas would prohibit the fishing activity in these limited areas and could result in a small adverse economic impact on commercial fishing.” It’s axiomatic but it probably doesn’t hurt to state that what is “a small adverse economic impact” to the people at Edge Research, at Pew, at the Conservation Law Foundation or at any of the other involved organizations who can with clear conscience equate the impacts of fishing with the impacts of mining and drilling is unquestionably the difference between staying in business and bankruptcy to dozens of small New England businesses. But the drillers will keep on drilling and the miners will keep on digging, just like always.

Do you want the fisheries that you depend on to be controlled by politically spawned dictates from the White House or by a science-based system that is based on input from you and other stakeholders? Do you want federal fisheries policy to be a result of manipulations by professional pollsters working for anti-fishing ENGOs and the foundations that support them?

This isn’t just a New England problem. This allows any anti-fishing group with enough dollars and enough political clout to ride roughshod over a fisheries management that, while not yet perfect is something that we’ve all invested a tremendous in improving. Below I’ve attached the text of an email from the National Coalition for Fishing Communities addressing this issue as well. New York Congressman Lee Zeldin has prepared legislation that, while not a permanent fix, will put the Foundations/ENGOs plans on ice for a year. This will allow us time to work on a permanent solution. I don’t know this fared last night but regardless of that call your local House Member’s and your Senators’ offices and let them know how important this issue is to you and to your future in fishing.

Nils Stolpe FishNet USA

ACTION ALERT: Contact Your Member of Congress Tonight to Support Zeldin Amendment to Limit Antiquities ActClick here

Nils Stolpe – Magnuson management – how well is it working?


Fish net Surveilance

Nils Stolpe, FishNet USA

“Through investment and sacrifice on the part of our commercial and recreational fishermen,  today, landings by U.S. commercial fishermen—and the value they get for those landings—are near all-time highs”  The Governance of Fish: Forty Years under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, 04/11/2016, Sam Rauch  (Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, NOAA Fisheries)

Periodically I like to do an overview of U.S. fisheries to give readers the opportunity to evaluate how their fisheries are doing relative to other domestic fisheries. This seems particularly relevant today, particularly considering Sam Rauch’s “happy birthday to us”  anniversary statement up above.

Considering that the NOAA/NMFS commercial landings database ( lists over 480 fisheries, how to approach this task has always been a challenge. Considering each one would be extremely cumbersome and time consuming and would cover a lot of fisheries that are of interest to only a very small part of the industry. For example, there are 300+ fisheries that had less than $1,000,000 worth of landed value in 2014 and 100+ fisheries with a landed value less than $20,000. This isn’t to imply that these smaller fisheries aren’t important. To the fishermen, other businessmen and consumers who count of them, every fishery is important. But as a practical matter they can’t all be addressed here.

(I have appended a few paragraphs at the end of this FishNet that will walk you through the process for any of the fisheries that NOAA/NMFS monitors).

How are the twenty-five most valuable commercial fisheries doing?

The U.S. commercial fishing fleet landed five and a half billion dollars’ worth of finfish and shellfish in 2014, and about 80% of that –  four and a quarter billion dollars’ worth – was landed in the 25 most “valuable” fisheries. In fact, the New England/mid-Atlantic lobster and sea scallop fisheries together landed over a billion dollars’ worth of product.

Thus, to avoid the appearance of “cherry picking” the fisheries to include, I decided that I would look at the top 25 fisheries in terms of landed value. These are divided between finfish and shellfish, are well spread geographically, utilize each of the major gear types, and the vessels that participate range from the smallest to the largest commercially fishing. The 25 fisheries take place in the estuaries and in inshore and offshore waters, and are managed by the states, by the federal government through the regional management councils, by the interjurisdictional Commissions or jointly by the latter two.

I initially choose a twenty-five year time frame – 1990 to 2014 – because it is generally accepted as the length of a human generation and is long enough to even out a lot of the normal highs and lows in annual landings (more on this later). It also avoids the spikes in landings that were associated with what can best be described as post-Magnuson euphoria.

The values reported in the NOAA/NMFS Landings Database are the nominal values (the values of the annual landings in that year’s dollars). Using these values would ignore the effects of inflation, which becomes quite significant over time. As an example, the 40 million pounds of coho salmon landed in 1950 returned only $7 million dollars to the fishermen at the time, yet what that $7 million would buy in 1950 would cost $70 million in 2015. Thus the blue lines represent the value of the landings of the listed species in 2015 dollars, converted using the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

chart 1 stolpechart 2 stolpechart 3 stolpechart 4 stolpe


chart 5 stolpechart 6 stolpe

Nils Stolpe – Are you getting the idea that if you’re a fisherman Daniel Pauly isn’t on your side?

daniel-pauly-e1453236033296FishNet-USA/February 22, 2016 – “… The crisis in the world’s fisheries is less about scientific proof than about attitude and political will. And the world’s fish need a dynamic, high-profile political champion like a Bono or Mandela to give finned creatures the public profile of cute and furry ones.” (Daniel Pauly in “Hooked on fishing, and we’re heading for the bottom, says scientist”,,, This quote by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ premier fisheries researcher says just about all that needs to be said about the ongoing anti-fishing campaign that they have been financing, along with a handful of other mega-foundations, to convince anyone who is willing to listen that, in spite of a dearth of compelling scientific evidence supporting this strum und drang , the world’s oceans are – and have been – facing a crisis brought about because of the depredations of commercial fishermen. Where are the Kardashian’s when Pauly really needs them? Read the rest here 19:23

Nils Stolpe: While it’s called fishery management, it’s not even close – Managing fishing, not fish

“At the global scale, probably the one thing currently having the most impact (on the oceans) is overfishing and destructive fishing gear.” (former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration head Jane Lubchenco in an interview on the website on April 7, 2010.) The Deepwater Horizon oil spill catastrophe began on April 20, less than two weeks later. Each year in the U.S. hundreds of millions of tax dollars are spent on what is called fishery management. It’s called fisheries management in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.  Read the article here 19:14

Who’s really in charge of U.S. fisheries? – Nils Stolpe, FishnetUSA

An Oligarchy is defined as “a country, business, etc., that is controlled by a small group of people” –  Ancient City Shrimp is an eight minute YouTube video (Click here) produced by the St. Augustine Lighthouse Museum that examines St. Augustine’s past as one of several centers of commercial shrimping in Florida. Unfortunately – or perhaps tragically is a better fit – Florida’s shrimp fleet is only a shadow of what it once was. One of the reasons for this is the imposition of unrealistic regulations on U.S. shrimpers that has made the fishery much less profitable than it used to be. A history lesson or two. Read the rest here 16:27

Who’s really in charge of U.S. fisheries? – Nils Stolpe, FishnetUSA

An Oligarchy is defined as “a country, business, etc., that is controlled by a small group of people”  


Ancient City Shrimp is an eight minute YouTube video (Click here) produced by the St. Augustine Lighthouse Museum that examines St. Augustine’s past as one of several centers of commercial shrimping in Florida.Fish net Surveilance

Unfortunately – or perhaps tragically is a better fit – Florida’s shrimp fleet is only a shadow of what it once was. One of the reasons for this is the imposition of unrealistic regulations on U.S. shrimpers that has made the fishery much less profitable than it used to be.

The video’s producers don’t really focus on this as one of the reasons for this decline, rather emphasizing the impacts of cheaper – and generally inferior – shrimp from abroad. This is understandable. You can only cover so much ground in a short video. Opening the can of worms that fishery regulation in the Southeast has become is a guarantee of complication and controversy, things which few museums would willingly get involved in.

In spite of a really good job overall I found part of the final narration troubling. Almost at the end (7 minutes and 50 seconds or so in) the narrator in his wrap-up states “while we can’t change federal regulations we can change our purchasing habits. Demand local shrimp (my emphasis added).” He’s on target with the “demand local shrimp” but it’s hard to imagine anything more antithetical to the principles that our country was founded upon than his acceptance of the idea that we can’t, or that we shouldn’t, change federal regulations.

While it seems unlikely, apparently he missed out on any exposure to or consideration of the words “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”

As close to immortal as any words spoken in the last half a millennium, they are from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. In a commemoration of the sacrifices of Union soldiers in the battle of Gettysburg, on November 19, 1863, President Lincoln expressed what governance in the United States was all about. To repeat those words, “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

It kind of makes you wonder how the documentarians who put together Ancient City Shrimp became convinced that we (the people, I presume, as in the U.S. Citizenry) can’t or shouldn’t change federal regulations. One possibility is that they weren’t aware that Aldous Huxley’s 1984 was a work of fiction. Another would be that they have been exposed to the bottomless morass that federal fisheries management has been turned into.

A history lesson or two

Back in 1976 (this was before the existence of a multi-billion dollar environmental industry so thankfully they weren’t there ti impede the process) the Magnuson-Stevens Act became law. It brought fishing in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone under federal control and established a management regime that would eventually phase out virtually all foreign commercial fishing in U.S. waters.

It was generally agreed that one of the strongest features of the Act was the determination that fishermen were an integral part of the federal fishery management process. This was achieved by mandating that fishermen were voting members on each regional Fishery Management Council.

This was in recognition of a number of factors that the public, or at least the majority of the involved politicians and bureaucrats, have subsequently turned – or been turned – away from. Among these were the relative lack of knowledge of our fisheries and what affects them, the value to fisheries managers of the knowledge that has been accumulated by a multigenerational fishing industry over many years, and the belief in and the commitment of fishermen to the long term sustainability of the fisheries they participate in.

Since then a concerted and successful effort has been mounted to reduce the role that fishermen and other fishing industry members play in federal fisheries management. The role that they once had, and that Congress had intended them to have, has been taken over by fishery scientists. Unfortunately science’s understanding of our living marine resources and their all-important relationships with a rapidly and radically changing marine environment has lagged far behind the management authority that scientists have been given. Most simply stated, they are now making multi-million dollar decisions based on woefully inadequate data and the system is bound to this ill-conceived strategy with no recourse when common sense argues compellingly against it.

These changes have been forced by a handful of ENGOs funded by several multi-billion dollar foundations as soon as the public relations, political and financial benefits of “demonizing” fishermen and fishing became apparent to them. This has resulted in many boats being permanently forced off the water, many shore-side support businesses permanently shutting down and a general public impression that most of what’s wrong with our fisheries and our oceans is due to uncontrolled and uncaring fishermen. The ongoing and now institutionalized New England groundfish debacle is a sad example of this.  These foundations and the ENGOs and academics that they have hired have also paved the way for a “revolution” in fishing, but not in how fish are caught or provided to consumers, but in how fishing businesses are actually structured.

Recognizing that this has been going on and familiar with the significant negative impacts it has been having on traditional fishermen and traditional fisheries, fishing industry supporters in Congress have been and still are committed to restoring the role of fishermen in federal fisheries management. In spite of a seeming avalanche of what can’t be seen as anything other than anti-fishing propaganda, they are still intent on incorporating all we have learned about maintaining sustainability in the fisheries management process.

Behind the anti-fishing ENGOs

I’ve written before about how fisheries management has been distorted by influence brought to bear by a handful of multi-billion dollar foundations, the PR machines they control and the organizations and individuals that they use their wealth to co-opt. Never before, however, have I come across such a clear cut example of how this is done as I did in the ongoing campaign over the past year striving to stop fishing industry supported amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act.

Introduced by Alaska Congressman Don Young, who is now the third most senior Member of the House of Representatives, the legislation was named the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act. In his words it “aims to improve federal fishery management in order to give Regional Fishery Management Councils the proper tools and flexibility necessary to effectively manage their fisheries.” The Congressman, along with Congressman Gerry Studds (D, MA) and Senators Warren Magnuson (D, WA) and Ted Stevens (R, AK) played a key role in originally creating the Magnuson-Stevens Act and getting it passed. (While it’s not mentioned on Congressman Young’s website at, the problems in the current version of the Act are those that are there thanks to aggressive and expensive campaigns by a handful of foundation funded ENGOs to amend the original Act.)   

The Pew Charitable Trusts and individuals and organizations they support have been in large part  responsible for this campaign, as they were for the initial amendments that Congressman Young’s legislation is attempting to put right.

Back in May I was forwarded an email from a government and business consulting firm with offices in Washington, DC, Newark, NJ, Trenton, NJ, Albany, NY, Columbus, OH, and Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, PA. The email was a follow-up to a previous message and the subject was “FISH-Executive Chef Sign on Letter.”

The author wrote that she was working with the PEW Charitable Trusts to get signatures on a letter asking Members of Congress to, among other things, “oppose efforts to weaken the conservation provisions of the law….” The law is the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The efforts to “weaken it” are the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act. A careful reading of the proposed amendments to the Act would show that this is in no way accurate.

The letter was an attempt to get executive chefs from the food industry, a group which has become increasingly powerful in molding political opinion and public policy since the advent of “celebrity chefs,” to “protect” fish and shellfish in U.S. waters from the supposed depredations of supposed anti-conservation minded U.S. fishermen

This appeal resulted in a letter addressed to Members of Congressed dated May 29 that was posted on Congressman Grijalva’s House Natural Resources Committee minority website. It cited the opposition of the signatories (executive chefs and others) to the efforts to amend Magnuson; amendments that would once again allow fishermen more of a say in fisheries management and give fisheries managers some flexibility when the existing science isn’t adequate to support what are now government mandated management actions. The letter is at . It was identified as “Chefs Letters Opposing Empty Oceans Act.”

Congressman Grijalva is the ranking member of the House Resources Committee.

(The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there were 118,000 chefs and head cooks employed in the U.S. in May of 2014. Statista reported the number of restaurants at over 600,000. The letter was signed by 37 chefs.)

Cited along with this were letters from 18 other groups. One was from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The other groups have directly or indirectly received tens of millions of dollars from those “Charitable” trusts. Among them was one from the group identified as the “NGO Community,” signed by representatives of The Conservation Law Foundation (received at least $1 million from Pew), Earthjustice (received at least $23 million from Pew), Gulf Restoration Network (received almost $1 million from Pew), Oceana (received at least $62 million from Pew), Chesapeake Bay Foundation (received $1/4 million from Pew), Environmental Defense (received at least $2 million from Pew), Ocean Conservancy (received at least $1/2 million from Pew), Natural Resources Defense Council (received at least $1 million from Pew). A letter identified as from the Fishing Community Coalition was signed by the President of The Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance (received at least $1.5 million from Pew while previously known as the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association). The New England Aquarium (received at least $11 million from Pew) and The Marine Fish Conservation Network (received at least $4 million from Pew) sent their own letters.

Fine, you might say, particularly if you’ve swallowed all of the anti-fishing propaganda directly or indirectly paid for by a small group of huge foundations. Making them especially effective at this, they have pooled their efforts to “revolutionize” fishing (see the addendum about U.S. Agency for International Development creation, the Consultative Group on Biological Diversity), or rather to revolutionize fishing businesses, in our federal waters.

For a bit more insight as to what’s going on let’s follow some of the money.

The Pew Charitable Trusts were established by the heirs of the founder of Sun Oil (Sunoco). While estimates vary, it seems to be generally accepted that the Trusts have in the neighborhood of $5,000,000,000 in assets (for an idea of scale, the entire U.S. commercial fishing industry lands about five billion dollars’ worth of fish and shellfish each year).

The Pew Trusts are controlled by a Board of Directors. Seven of the Board members are Pews, another, Rebecca Rimel, is the Executive Director of the Trusts. Another, Robert H. Cambpell, “…served as Chief Executive Officer of Sunoco Inc., a domestic refiner and marketer of petroleum products from September 1991 to June 2000 and its President from 1991 to 1996.” Another, Susan W. Catherwood, is “a Director of The Glenmede Corporation. She is also a Director at The Glenmede Trust Company, N.A. since 1998. She is also a Director of the Glenmede Trust Company of New Jersey…. She serves as a Trustee at The Glenmede Fund, Inc.” (from Company Overview of The Glenmede Corporation, Bloomburg Business). Another, Aristides W. Georgantas, is on the Board of Glenmede. Another, Robert G. Williams is Chairman of The Glenmede Corporation and Director of The Glenmede Trust Company, N.A.

And “the Glenmede Trust Company was founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1956 by four children of Joseph N. Pew, founder of Sun Oil Company, to serve as the corporate trustee for the trust they had endowed to honor their parents. The Pew Memorial Trust, as it came to be known, was funded with Sun Oil Co. stock…” (

It seems inarguable that the Board of the Pew Trusts, with at least twelve members (out of thirteen) having close ties to the Sun Oil fortune and/or its offspring, the Glenmede Trust Company, wanted Congressman Young’s proposed fisherman friendly amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Act to be defeated. These amendments would have instituted some conservation neutral “fixes” to Magnuson provisions which had been added since 1976 and which have been threatening the continued existence of fishermen, fishing families, fishing businesses and fishing communities around our coasts. But with the resources of a huge and powerful organization to draw on, it’s pretty easy to get what you want.

If this was an important issue for regular folks – meaning those of us of limited means who either aren’t very, very wealthy or don’t work for or hang out with those who are – we might call the offices of our reps in Congress. If it were a really important issue we might write them a letter or two. If it were a potentially life-shattering issue we might visit their local or DC offices.

Along with voting every couple of years and staying politically informed I’m pretty sure that’s the kind of thing that Lincoln had in mind with his of, by and for the people.

What did the people at Pew do? They spent some of their five billion or so dollars – they used to report relevant information about their grants (amount, for what, to whom) on their website but they stopped that several years back so we don’t know how much they spent – to hire at least one consulting firm. And the consulting firm set out to get a bunch of chefs to sign on to a letter that while seeming to save these fishermen – and the fish in the EEZ – from their own greed and shortsightedness would in fact continue the campaign of regulating them out of business.

This letter was accompanied by other letters from people and organizations – mostly ENGOs – that had either benefitted from Pew funding that ranged from hundreds of thousands to tens of millions of dollars or that were apparently convinced by other means (more consultants?) to sign on.

How much did all of those other letters cost?

Some obvious questions stemming from these manipulations concern what the total cost was to Pew, how actually informed were the signatories that Pew or Pew’s grantees or Pew’s hirelings on the issues that their letters addressed, and how representative of government of, for and by the people is this?

Is there an oligarchy in fishing’s future?

For the past several years, fanned by what’s going on in modern Russia, there has been a lot of interest by the media in oligarchs and oligarchies.  Defined as “a country, business, etc., that is controlled by a small group of people” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary), an oligarchy would seem to be the antithesis of government as Lincoln envisioned it. But along with the foregoing, follow some of the links below and then consider the influence Pew has in or over the domestic fisheries management system (and on fisheries management in other countries as well). And consider as well that thirteen people wield all that power. Of those thirteen people seven are in the founder’s family and at least twelve have significant ties to Sun Oil/Sunoco and/or the private bank that was formed to administer the trusts established with Sun Oil/Sunoco stock. You decide!

To the extent that multi-billion dollar foundations such as Pew continue to have their way by mounting campaigns that any of the affected groups can’t afford to effectively counter, and by exerting influence in Washington that few in the private sector are capable of, the folks at the St. Augustine Lighthouse Museum who think the people can’t change government will be justified. And the rest of us, those of us who know that Lincoln had it right at Gettysburg, will be increasingly marginalized.



To put the potential impact of Pew’s billions of dollars into a more comprehensible context, follow the links below:

  • Pew, Academia and ENGOs – For a listing of projects funded by the Pew Trusts and several other multi-billion dollar foundations intending to fix (in their view) fishing and ocean governance look at the foundations grants database on the website – on the “Connections” page follow the link at the beginning of the third paragraph. Grants were only listed until 2008. After that date the foundation folks made it much less convenient to determine who they were paying for what. From 1998 to 2008 Pew provided over $270 million to Universities, ENGOs and fishermen’s Associations for fisheries and related projects.
  • Pew, USAID and other Foundations – The question of the degree of coordination and cooperation between and among the involved foundations has often arisen. Not too surprisingly, the federal government through the USAID has been fostering such coordination and cooperation through its low profile Consultative Group on Biological Diversity. See a column I wrote for Saving Seafood at for some background.
  • Pew and federal fisheries governance – Pew, Much of the existing federal oceans policy was determined by the Pew Oceans Commission (and its doppelganger, The United States Commission on Ocean Policy) which issued its final report in 2003. In The Pew Commission – a basis for national ocean policy? ( I discuss some of the shortcomings of the Pew Commission and its “accomplishments.”
  • Pew and the media – At least until 2008 Pew’s financial support of print and broadcast media was of the same magnitude (or greater) than its support of reconfiguring fisheries management/ocean governance. A synopsis of Pew and the media pre 2008 is available on the FishTruth website at
  • On a more personal level see In the Belly of the Big Green Beast at
  • Pew and Fishermen – For a short analysis of Pew’s efforts in fisheries/ocean governance from an industry perspective see The anti-fishing movement; a U.S. perspective at
  • Pew, Congress and the Magnuson Act – In spite of the opposition, Congressman Young’s amendments to Magnuson embodied in the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act passed the House of Representatives and went to the Senate. There has been no subsequent action and President Obama has indicated an unwillingness to sign it if it passes in the Senate.
  • Pew and the Obama Whitehouse – At the very beginning of President Obama’s first term his administration organized the Setting Ocean Priorities for the New Administration and Congress Workshop. There were 65 participants and 13 staff listed. Of them over 75% had identifiable ties to funding from either Pew or three other mega-foundations who have been active in fisheries-related funding from about the same perspective as Pew but to a lesser extent. Of the five “fishermen” participants, one who was recreational and four commercial, all have ties to at least one of the foundations. The participants and staff and their connections are listed at
  • Pew and astroturf roots – The people at Pew are past masters at making campaigns that they originate and in large part operate appear as if they are actually “grass roots” movements. I examined this phenomena in Your roots are showing (
  • The times they are a’changin for the Saving Seafood website 

Nils Stolpe: Atlantic herring – lots of smoke but where’s the fire? – Click Here

Peter Shelley is a lawyer who works for the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF). Apparently among his duties is providing entries to the CLF website “Talking Fish.”

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the groundfish debacle in New England, Mr. Shelley and the CLF, utilizing the court system and a whole bunch of money (according to their IRS Form 990 filed in 2011- the last year available on the Guidestar website – total CLF revenue was $5,800,000, up $1,250,000 from the year before), have been playing a pivotal role in the groundfish fishery management program via the management process and the courts since before it was a debacle. Evidently the groundfish fishery wasn’t enough to fill Mr. Shelley’s plate so he has been involved in Atlantic (sea) herring management as well. Read more here 14:34

NILS STOLPE: Of gumballs, the American Sportfishing Association and fisheries management

FishNet USA — May 9, 2014 — To equate what a recreational fisherman pays to catch a fish to what a commercial fisherman is paid to catch that same fish is to equate the total cost an equestrian pays to ride her horse for a mile to what Amtrak would charge to move her the same distance on a train.  The people at the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) are embarking on the second year of a campaign to convince anyone who will listen that recreational fishing is equally as or more important than commercial fishing and that in their estimation the federal government should not be putting so much emphasis on managing the commercial fisheries. Read more here  19:27

NILS STOLPE: Of gumballs, the American Sportfishing Association and fisheries management

FishNet USA — May 9, 2014 — To equate what a recreational fisherman pays to catch a fish to what a commercial fisherman is paid to catch that same fish is to equate the total cost an equestrian pays to ride her horse for a mile to what Amtrak would charge to move her the same distance on a train.

The people at the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) are embarking on the second year of a campaign to convince anyone who will listen that recreational fishing is equally as or more important than commercial fishing and that in their estimation the federal government should not be putting so much emphasis on managing the commercial fisheries. It began with a press release announcing the completion of an ASA commissioned study by Southwick Associates on May 6 of last year and has progressed to a YouTube video starring gumballs as fish surrogates and with Michael Nussman, the President of the ASA, in a strong supporting role.

In the press release Nussman stated “the current federal saltwater fisheries management system has historically focused the vast majority of its resources on the commercial sector, when recreational fishing is found to have just as significant an economic impact on jobs and the nation’s economy.”

You might ask what the point of this exercise is.

According to Nussman “we’re not releasing this report in an effort to demean commercial fishing. Commercial fishing is very important to our nation’s economy! Our goal is to highlight the importance of recreational fishing to the nation. As our coastal populations continue to grow, along with saltwater recreational fishing, significant improvements must be made to shape the nation’s federal fisheries system in a way that recognizes and responds to the needs of the recreational fishing community.”

Among other things, “demean” means to lower in standing, and in spite of Nussman’s assurances to the contrary, it sure seems like that’s exactly what the ASA and their Southwick Associates report is attempting to do.

From the report:

“In 2011 anglers landed 204.9 million pounds of saltwater fish. In pursuit of these fish, saltwater anglers spent $26.8 billion on fishing tackle and equipment and trip-related goods and services. Including multiplier effects, their spending generated $70.3 billion in economic output (sales), created $32.5 billion in value-added growth and supported 454,542 jobs with $20.5 billion in income…. Of the commercial sector’s landings, 4.9 billion finfish pounds were the same species frequently targeted by anglers, with a landed value of $2.1 billion. Including multiplier effects along the entire value chain from harvesters to processors to final consumers, commercial finfish harvest of species also sought by anglers generated $20.5 billion of economic output. This is the “sales impact,” which is not to be confused with expenditures or retail sales which created $10.6 billion in value-added impacts and generated 304,611 jobs with $7.5 billion of income.”

If that isn’t an attempt to lower the standing of commercial fishing, particularly when Nussman introduced the report with the words “the current federal saltwater fisheries management system has historically focused the vast majority of its resources on the commercial sector,” it’s hard to imagine what would be.

The entire report centers around the idea that expenditures on recreational fishing services, equipment and supplies are somehow equivalent – on a dollar to dollar basis – to dollars generated by commercially caught and landed finfish (The Southwick people disregard commercial shellfish landings, which will be discussed below).

In reality commercial fishermen and the people in every other business in the seafood supply chain are dedicated to producing the best possible product at the lowest possible price, as are any business owners engaged in producing products in a free market system. If they weren’t they wouldn’t be in business for very long, because there is a world’s worth of alternative center of the plate proteins competing for the US consumers’ dollars. On the other hand recreational fishermen aren’t buying fish when they go fishing, they are buying a recreational fishing experience, and the more pleasurable that experience is the more they are likely to spend. Within limits this isn’t determined by the amount of fish caught. Recreational fishermen aren’t driven by anything approaching the bottom-line constraints that commercial fishermen and others in the seafood supply chain face.

To equate what a recreational fisherman pays to catch a fish to what a commercial fisherman is paid to catch that same fish is to equate the total cost an equestrian pays to ride her horse for a mile to what Amtrak would charge to move her the same distance on a train. Apples and oranges doesn’t come close to describing how unapt the Southwick comparison is, maybe Ferraris and oranges does.

Why omit shellfish?

In the Southwick report the authors also ignore the value and the economic contributions of the commercial shellfish fisheries (mollusks and crustaceans), stating as their rationale “shellfish are rarely targeted by anglers.” This implies that there is no relationship between commercial shellfish fisheries and commercial or recreational finfish fisheries. The impact that the yellowtail flounder fisheries have on the New England/Mid-Atlantic sea scallop fishery, the most valuable commercial fishery in the US, demonstrates how a seemingly unrelated fishery can have a profound effect on another, and how “dismissing” any of our fisheries, recreational or commercial, can leave naïve readers with severely distorted impressions.

The New England/Mid-Atlantic sea scallop fishery is constrained more by the catch of yellowtail flounder, which supports a small recreational fishery in New England, than it is by sea scallop abundance. If the small allocation of yellowtail flounder is inadvertently exceeded by the sea scallop fleet the sea scallop fishery will be closed for a predetermined period in the subsequent fishing year depending on the amount by which the allocation is exceeded. The allocation of yellowtail flounder to the scallop fleet has been on the order of 500 metric tons annually. The sea scallop fishery, the most valuable commercial fishery in the US with landings that have averaged over a half a billion dollars a year in recent years, is dependent on catching just over a million dollars’ worth of these flounder (that have an ex-vessel value of around a dollar a pound). If the yellowtail flounder population declines for any reason the allocation of them to the sea scallop fishery will be reduced proportionally, as will the sea scallop catch.

The Gulf of Mexico/South Atlantic shrimp fisheries provide another example of how closely intertwined commercial shellfish fisheries and commercial/recreational finfish fisheries are. Domestic shrimp fishermen exert a tremendous effort – at a tremendous expense – to avoid bycatch of juvenile stages of important finfish species, particularly snapper and grouper. The Mid-Atlantic/New England squid fishery is managed in large part for the butterfish bycatch (more on butterfish later). And there are similar finfish interactions in other shellfish fisheries.

Also, and it’s kind of surprising that the Southwick people ignored this, a small yet significant part of the “commercial” shellfish harvest goes to providing bait to recreational anglers, and the price that they pay for their clams, shrimp, squid and clams tend to be quite a bit higher than what consumers are willing to pay for the same products at the seafood counter.

In ignoring the value of the commercial shellfish fisheries the report makes it appear as if fish caught by recreational fishermen add three times as much value to the economy as fish caught by commercial fishermen. The inclusion of all commercially caught fish and shellfish would definitely affect this ratio, meaningless as it is. In fact, well over half of the commercial finfish catch is composed of relatively low value per pound species and virtually all of the commercially caught shellfish are high value per pound. In 2012 the ten most valuable commercial finfish species had an average landed value of less than 26 cents per pound while the ten most valuable shellfish species had an average landed value of over two dollars per pound.

Landings (MT): 25798.30
Landings (lbs): 56874880.00
Value ($s): 558809255.00
$s/lb: 9.83

Landings (MT): 67831.90
Landings (lbs): 149542284.00
Value ($s): 429269331.00
$s/lb: 2.87

Landings (MT): 1302815.40
Landings (lbs): 2872186903.00
Value ($s): 343311377.00
$s/lb: 0.12

Landings (MT): 53683.50
Landings (lbs): 118350634.00
Value ($s): 234435088.00
$s/lb: 1.98

Landings (MT): 96542.50
Landings (lbs): 212837690.00
Value ($s): 209934238.00
$s/lb: 0.99

Landings (MT): 49637.60
Landings (lbs): 109431019.00
Value ($s): 197883631.00
$s/lb: 1.81

Landings (MT): 325737.90
Landings (lbs): 718121778.00
Value ($s): 186595472.00
$s/lb: 0.26

Fishery: CRAB, BLUE
Landings (MT): 81209.10
Landings (lbs): 179033583.00
Value ($s): 183527265.00
$s/lb: 1.03

Landings (MT): 24303.20
Landings (lbs): 53578848.00
Value ($s): 180671629.00
$s/lb: 3.37

Fishery: CRAB, SNOW
Landings (MT): 40018.90
Landings (lbs): 88225773.00
Value ($s): 166807600.00
$s/lb: 1.89

Landings (MT): 15382.40
Landings (lbs): 33912005.00
Value ($s): 151887093.00
$s/lb: 4.48

Landings (MT): 18733.60
Landings (lbs): 41300008.00
Value ($s): 140746491.00
$s/lb: 3.41

Landings (MT): 639754.30
Landings (lbs): 1410402326.00
Value ($s): 107747893.00
$s/lb: 0.08

Landings (MT): 10825.90
Landings (lbs): 23866753.00
Value ($s): 104600262.00
$s/lb: 4.38

Landings (MT): 68015.30
Landings (lbs): 149946474.00
Value ($s): 101260007.00
$s/lb: 0.68

Landings (MT): 106734.00
Landings (lbs): 235305761.00
Value ($s): 101164489.00
$s/lb: 0.43

Fishery: CRAB, KING
Landings (MT): 7419.90
Landings (lbs): 16357952.00
Value ($s): 90789682.00
$s/lb: 5.55

Landings (MT): 6908.80
Landings (lbs): 15231239.00
Value ($s): 70680823.00
$s/lb: 4.64

Landings (MT): 97460.50
Landings (lbs): 214861518.00
Value ($s): 63883456.00
$s/lb: 0.30

Landings (MT): 1116.60
Landings (lbs): 2461568.00
Value ($s): 54451870.00
$s/lb: 22.12

No matter what the reasoning, not considering the entire commercial fishery relative to the entire recreational fishery leaves readers with an incomplete and very possibly distorted picture.

What about exceeded quotas?

In every discussion about inequities in recreational fisheries management this seems to be the 800 pound gorilla lurking invisibly in the corner.

If you are at all familiar with the current state of fisheries management in the US you know that it’s next to impossible for commercial fishermen to overfish their quota (or TAC or whatever it’s called) in federal waters. Unfortunately that’s not the case with recreational fishermen in recreational fisheries or in those that they share with their commercial colleagues.

At this point virtually every commercial fishery that takes place in federal waters is under one form of limited entry or another. What this means is that you need a federal permit to participate in those fisheries. The number of permits allowed in each fishery is limited. Accordingly it takes more than a boat and a desire to participate in a particular fishery to fish. The controls on the limited number of commercial fishermen in a particular fishery can (and usually do) limit where they can fish, when they can fish, how they can fish, the size and horsepower of their boat, the type and amount of gear they can use and the size and amount of the fish they can catch. Depending on the fishery, when a predetermined amount of a particular species is caught the fishery may be shut down. If the amount caught exceeds the commercial quota, as with yellowtail flounder in the sea scallop fishery, the excess amount may be deducted from the following year’s quota.

Recreational fishermen are managed with various combinations of size, season and bag limits (the number of a particular species of fish that they can have in possession). However, there is no limit to the number of fishermen who can participate in a recreational fishery, nor in how many trips they may make in which they catch a particular species. It seems obvious that a fisheries management system that for all intents and purposes has no cap on the number of participants nor on the number of fish of a particular species each of those participants can take can be pretty far from effective. Recognizing this and effectively dealing with it is one of the improvements that is definitely necessary to, in Mr. Nussman’s words, “reshape the nation’s federal fisheries system.”

As the chart below (from NOAA/NMFS) shows, the number of saltwmail attachment-1.pngater recreational anglers, which remained reasonably stable for the last two decades of the twentieth century, grew significantly in most of the first decade of the twenty-first, until the “Great Recession” began. Whether most of those who left come back to the sport or not, there are and will continue to be millions more than there were a decade ago while the productive capacity of our waters isn’t going to increase significantly.























What of what seems to be an underlying theme of Mr. Nussman’s remarks in the press release and in his gumball presentation; the idea that the commercial fisheries are making off with most of the fish and that’s costing the US economy billions of dollars? Coincidentally NOAA/NMFS in the 2012 edition of Fisheries of the United States included a graph titled Top Ten Recreational Species-Harvest Vs. Commercial Harvest reproduced below.







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With the exception of Atlantic cod and summer flounder, well over half of the harvest of each of the most recreationally sought species nationally are taken by recreational anglers (I’ll note here that the commercial Atlantic cod fishery was historically our most significant commercial fishery since well before the founding of the United States and the summer flounder fishery has been one of the most important commercial fisheries in the Mid-Atlantic for most of the last hundred years).

Could it be that Mr. Nussman wants even more of these and other species to meet what from a management perspective appears to be the uncontrollable demands (by managing what an angler can catch per trip but not the number of anglers/number of trips) of the recreational anglers? The commercial landings of these ten species and any others that support both recreational and commercial fisheries seem meager indeed, particularly when one considers commercial landings in the US in their entirety. But they certainly aren’t to the fishermen, recreational, party/charter and commercial, who catch them and the businesses they support. And, while Mr. Nussman lumped all commercial finfish fishermen and fisheries together, that is certainly not the real world case. The most valuable commercial fisheries generally involve large companies, big boats, a lot of onshore or onboard processing and a lot of capital. The smaller ones generally don’t, and in them are the fishermen who would suffer the greatest harm from any reallocation. They are also the fishermen who have been the bedrock of our fishing communities from Maine to Alaska and beyond, and as we’re already seeing, as we lose them we lose those communities as well.

The final chart, again from NOAA/NMFS, shows how the number of fish taken home by saltwater anglers each year has declined to less than half of what it was in the 1980s. While I’m in no way expert on the saltwater recreational angling industry, this seems to be a pretty unsustainable trend, but does its continuation have to be inevitable? No more inevitable than the constant whittling down of commercial and recreational quotas are.

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Is there a solution to what I’ll call the saltwater recreational anglers’ dilemma?



Every year more commercial fishermen and the people in fishing dependent businesses are realizing that better science almost always means more fish – and when it doesn’t we definitely don’t want to be catching too many. As long as the precautionary principle is applied only to protect the fish and not to protect fishing communities and is rigidly controlling fisheries management decisions, what we don’t know about fish stocks is going to hurt us. Some of us have come to terms with this and are committing to collaboration with researchers ashore and on the water. One of the most recent positive results of this was announced by the Mid-Atlantic Council last week, reporting that a just completed stock assessment determined that butterfish were presently not overfished and hadn’t been for at least twenty-three years. This assessment was the result of several years of cooperation and collaboration between the Council staff, researchers at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center and several universities, fishermen and their representatives. It wasn’t easy, but it’s getting easier, and the reward is going to be larger – but sustainable – harvests of both butterfish and squid. And it didn’t involve any fishermen trying to grab quota from any other fisherman. All it involved was getting the science closer to right.



A recent NOAA/NMFS publication (Fish Assessment Report – Fiscal Year 2014 Quarter 2 Update available here) reported that only 59.6% of the fish stocks listed on that agency’s Fish Stock Sustainability index had “adequate” assessments (from NOAA/NMFS “generally a minimally adequate assessment can be conducted where there is good information on the level of annual catch and an indicator of the degree of change in stock abundance over time”). Over 40% of our important fish stocks do not. What that means is that, because of the precautionary principle the harvest of almost half of our important fish stocks are too low because we don’t know enough about them because the science isn’t there to adequately assess them.



There’s definitely a message in there for Mr. Nussman and his members. And it wouldn’t require gumballs to illustrate it.



I would be remiss if I didn’t finish this with a reminder that we are importing on the order of 90% of the seafood we consume in the U.S. and fresh, locally produced fish is getting harder and harder to find and increasingly expensive. There are more fish out there. We need to find or force the funding to provide our scientists and our managers with the science necessary to adequately manage our fisheries. That would be good for everyone, not just the recreational fishermen, the commercial fishermen or the party/charter fishermen.

Comment here





Magnuson not a weapon to use against fishing communities! Nils Stolpe/April 2014

I wrote the column below over six years ago. Since then we have gone through two demonstrations in Washington, DC that were enthusiastically supported by recreational, party/charter and commercial fishermen. Thousands of fishermen finally realized that,,, Read more here  17:51

A must read blog (along with Fishosophy, of course!) Recommended by Nils Stolpe

The blogger is Jonathan Gonzalez, a graphic designer with a solid and obvious commitment to ocean conservation. What separates him from the crowd, and what brought his blog to my attention, was his unwillingness to accept at face value the myriad of commonly held “truths” of marine conservation and his willingness to devote himself to researching what’s really going on in our oceans and in our fisheries. Five minutes invested in reading the “about me” page on his website, Read [email protected]  17:06

Fishosophy: Overfished or Depleted? By Nils Stolpe

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” (William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II) Contrary to what might have been true when Shakespeare had Juliet speak those words in the 1590s, how things are called is far from meaningless  Read [email protected]  22:15

Nils Stolpe – Fishosophy – A New Blog and, Is this any way to manage a fishery?

NetLogoBackground500“Deep-Sea Plunder and Ruin” reads the title of an op-ed column in the New York Times on October 2 (also in the International Herald Tribune on October 3). The column, by two researchers who focus on oceanic biological diversity, is aimed at pressuring the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament to “phase out the use of deep-sea-bottom trawls and other destructive fishing gear in the Northeast Atlantic.”,,,and, Is this any way to manage a fishery? The status of river herring and shad has be an ongoing concern of anyone interested in the well-being of the fisheries in the Northeast U.S. From high abundance a few decades back these anadromous fish are presently at low levels. more here 18:59

Commercial fishing in the Northeast: a decade of change – Nils Stolpe, FIs​hNet USA

NetLogoBackground500I had the honor of being asked to write an article to be included in the program for the 2013 New Bedford Working Waterfront Festival. While much of it has be covered in prior FishNets, I thought that some readers might be interested in it, so it is reproduced below. It is available as a pdf file from   Nils E. Stolpe – FishNet USA  14:44

Seafood certificat​ion – who’s really on first? Nils Stolpe

NetLogoBackground500“Sustainability certification” has become a watchword of people in the so-called marine conservation community in recent years. However, their interest seems to transcend the determination of the actual sustainability of the methods employed to harvest particular species of finfish and shellfish and to use the certification process and the certifiers to advance either their own particular agendas or perhaps the agendas of those foundations that support them financially. continued here

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is the largest international organization – headquartered in London – providing fish and seafood sustainability certification. It was started in 1996 as a joint effort of the World Wildlife Fund, a transnational ENGO, and Unilever a transnational provider of consumer goods.

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Nils Stolpe – Fisheries Management​–More Than Meets The Eye

NetLogoBackground500Last year I wrote After 35 years of NOAA/NMFS fisheries management, how are they doing? How are we doing because of their efforts? ( 35 years of NOAA.pdf) I concluded with:

Our collective fisheries were never as badly off as grandstanding ENGOs convinced the public and our lawmakers that they were. Regardless of that, they are unquestionably in great shape now. Are the fishermen – the only people who have paid a price for that recovery – going to profit from it? At this point there aren’t a lot of indications that they are going to. Ill-conceived amendments to the Magnuson Act, the ongoing foundation-funded campaign to marginalize fishermen and to hold them victims of inadequate science, and a management regime that is focused solely on the health of the fish stocks and is indifferent to the plight of the fishermen effectively prevent that. continued here

Nils Stolpe: A staggering loss to U.S. fishermen and U.S. seafood consumers. And while on the subject of press releases…. CLF and Earthjusice

NetLogoBackground500It was back in June of 2008 that I first became aware of Richard Gaines’ work in the Gloucester Times in a three part series exploring the interplay between fishermen, feds, ENGOs and the mega-foundations that funded them in a controversial move to close Stellwagen Bank to fishing (see for the first installment). A letter about the series I wrote to Times Editor Ray Lamont started “kudos to Richard Gaines for reporting what is going on behind the smoke and mirrors obscuring the struggle to maintain the historical fisheries that have thrived on Stellwagan Bank for generations. He couldn’t be more on-target when writing ‘Pew is associated with public information campaigns against fishing and fish consumption.’”  [email protected]

The Writings of Nils Stolpe



Nils Stolpe is our Honored Guest. Click on the fishnetUSA icon to open the window to his website.

“Deep-Sea Plunder and Ruin” reads the title of an op-ed column in the New York Times on October 2 (also in the International Herald Tribune on October 3). The column, by two researchers who focus on oceanic biological diversity, is aimed at pressuring the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament to “phase out the use of deep-sea-bottom trawls and other destructive fishing gear in the Northeast Atlantic.” Building on what has been an expensive and effective public relations campaign designed to convince the world that bottom trawling and other fishing technologies are destroying the productivity of the worlds’ oceans, the authors rely on hyperbole rather than accepted science to make their case.
     To bolster their argument that deep ocean trawling should be banned, they extend even beyond the oceans’ boundaries, likening deep ocean biodiversity, which trawling will supposedly reduce, to rain forest biodiversity in relation to its effects on the global climate. Reduced rain forest biodiversity might be related to what’s going on with the global climate but to imply that reduced biodiversity in the deep oceans would have any similar effect, while perhaps acceptable as eco-alarmism, certainly isn’t acceptable as science.They end with the words “there is no doubt on the part of the more than 300 scientists worldwide who signed a declaration that this form of fishing should be eliminated from the deep sea. Whatever their reasons, Europe’s fishing corporations and their parliamentary allies — the ‘merchants of doubt’ — are making one last stand even in the face of scientific consesus (sic). But this time the doubters may have run out of viable arguments.”     That all sounds pretty dire, doesn’t it? It builds on the hackneyed fiction that presently fishermen are raping and pillaging the oceans and perhaps in the future the entire biosphere. It automatically categorizes deep-sea-bottom trawls, along with unspecified others, as “destructive fishing gear,” and it implies that there is a scientific consensus worldwide that supports a ban on this particular and related forms of fishing.

     Is this actually the case? The editorial staffs of the NY Times and the International Herald Tribune obviously think so and accordingly most of the people who read it will as well. But that definitely doesn’t make it so.
     A few hundred scientists signing a declaration is hardly an indication of a scientific consensus, either worldwide or at any scale ranging down to the major university level. For examples, the American Fisheries Society has on the order of 9,000 members. The majority are fisheries scientists. The Census of Marine Life at the end of its ten year tenure in 2010 had over 3,000 participants from more than 80 nations. The majority were scientists. The Fisheries Society of the British Isles has over 700 members. The majority are fisheries scientists. This is a list that would go on and on, yet Watling and Boeuf wish readers to believe that their “more than 300 scientists worldwide” constitute a consensus. Their declaration wouldn’t even come close to a consensus of scientists in the British Isles, whose waters would be among those supposedly most threatened by their deep sea fishermen bent on plunder and ruination.
     Particularly from a fish/seafood production perspective – think of a world population of seven billion and growing – there are deep sea areas that will benefit from trawling. There are also areas that should be protected from trawling. There are methods to minimize the negative impacts of trawling that are already in use and more are being developed. What there isn’t is a public dialogue focused on determining what level of sea floor changes specifically and ocean changes in general we are willing to accept for what increased level of protein production (consider the extent to which we’ve enhanced the “natural” productivity of our agricultural regions).

It is our job to see that this dialogue is entered into based on solid data and sound science, not on spin and hype.

Our oceans are vast and, as Watling and Bouefe so rightly point out, we understand very little of what goes on in them. However, that isn’t an excuse for basing public policies governing their use on faulty or distorted science, no matter how effective the PR efforts supporting that science are. Unfortunately, in the last two decades how we govern our fisheries – both in the U.S. and internationally – has been increasingly determined by overwrought alarmism such as is evidenced here.
 We owe it to our oceans, to our fishermen and to an increasingly hungry world to do as much as we can to change that, and it is our intention for the Fishosophy blog to be a step in that direction.By close of business tomorrow you will be able to get to the Fishosophy  Blog via the American Institute for Fishery Research Biologists website at  We are grateful to the AIFRB for extending to us the opportunity to share their web space and their administrative infrastructure. Posts on the Fishosophy blog represent the opinions of their authors and not necessarily those of the other Fishosophy bloggers or the American Institute of Fisheries Research Biologists..
Nils Stolpe (for myself and Fishosophy co-bloggers Steve Cadrin – University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, John Everett – Ocean Associates, Ray Hilborn – University of Washington, Bonnie McCay – Rutgers University, Brian Rothschild Center for Sustainable Fisheries, James Sulikowski – University of New England and Vidar Wespestad – Independent Fisheries Consultant)
Is this any way to manage a fishery?
     The status of river herring and shad has be an ongoing concern of anyone interested in the well-being of the fisheries in the Northeast U.S. From high abundance a few decades back these anadromous fish are presently at low levels.
The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council took up the issue of river herring and shad last year and has been exploring management options which would help in the species building back to previous levels. In particular the most recent amendment to the Atlantic Mackerel, Squid, Butterfish Fishery Management Plan – Amendment 16 – proposed measures in the mackerel fishery which would prevent any further decline in the herring/shad stocks attributable to those fisheries.
     In a defining vote at the Council’s meeting last week a motion to more fully bring these fish under the management umbrella of the Council was defeated. According to the Council (in a press release dated October 11, 2013) “the Council determined that additional management of river herrings and shads under an FMP was neither required nor appropriate at this time.” In the release the Council went so far as to list the reasons for this determination. They were:

•There are many ongoing river herring and shad conservation efforts at various levels which are already coordinated by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (Commission) and NOAA Fisheries; • The Commission and states have recently increased  their control of state landings;

• The pending catch caps for river herring and shad in the Atlantic mackerel and Atlantic herring fisheries will control fishing mortality of river herring and shad in Federal waters;

• NOAA Fisheries recently found that river herrings are not endangered or threatened and that coastwide abundances of river herrings appear stable or increasing; •  Additional research into stock abundance is needed to establish biological reference points; and

• NOAA Fisheries has recently committed to expanded engagement in river herring conservation.” Yet even in spite of this – and, I’ll be so presumptuous as to add that the Council’s and its staff’s resources appear to be maxed out at this point so any additional tasks would be at the expense of existing efforts – the Council did agree to bring together an interagency working group on river herring and shad, the progress of which the Council will periodically review beginning with its June 2014 meeting.

      It’s hard to imagine how any additions to the already ongoing management efforts focused on these fish wouldn’t result in redundancy and the squandering of too scarce administrative and scientific resources.
     According to the blog written by John McMurray, the Council member who made the original motion, none of this was anything near adequate. Perhaps to let his readers more fully appreciate his view of the federal fisheries management process of which he is a participating – and paid – member, Councilman McMurray starts his blog entry with “regular readers of this blog know that, for better or worse, I’m a member of the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council.”
     Then he takes the obligatory cheap – and somewhat cumbersome – shot at commercial fishermen, writing “despite the traditional default animus against regulation that tends to color commercial fishermen’s perception of regulation…” After  this he goes on to rail against the Council members – or at least the majority of them – who he apparently thinks are possessed of such a lack of judgment, character, background, education or regard for the fisheries (or any combination thereof) as to vote against his motion. This in spite of the above six points – which the majority of the Council members, those who voted against his motion, apparently comprehended. (I’ll add here that as I was skimming over the supposed thousands of comments supporting his motion that Councilman McMurray referred to a number of times – not as daunting task as it would seem, the lion’s share of the comments were from organizations representing their myriad members – it quickly became apparent that few if any of those commenters were aware of these six points enumerated by the Council. Nor were they apparently aware of the fact that the additional resources that his motion would have required would have of necessity been reallocated from the management of other fisheries and that none of those other fisheries were receiving the administrative or scientific priority that river herring and shad had already been  given.)
     Mr. McMurray then singled out two of the Council members who voted against his motion, named them, published their email addresses and wrote “they need to be accountable for those votes, and they need to know who it is they are supposed to be representing.  You need to let them know!  Here are their email addresses…”
     Mr. McMurray seems to believe that these two Council member, and by implication he himself and all other Council members as well, are on the Council as representatives of and to protect the interests of particular groups of people. From my understanding of the regional councils established by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (FCMA), this is far from the actual case. Publicly appointed Council members swear an oath of office on taking their seats on the councils. Nowhere in this oath (available at does it say or imply that members are there to represent any particular group. Nor does it say that in the Act itself.
     In fact, in the oath each Council member agrees that it is her or his “responsibility to serve as a knowledgeable and experienced trustee of the Nation’s marine fisheries resources, being careful to balance competing private or regional interests, and always aware and protective of the public interest in those resources.”
Neither Mr. McMurray nor the two Council members he singled out nor any other publicly appointed Council member is representing any particular person or group. They are there to represent everyone, and the oath they swear makes that perfectly clear.
     I find this particularly troubling and I’d suggest that anyone with an interest in the equitable and effective functioning of the federal fisheries management system should be troubled by it as well. For our regional councils to operate the way they were designed to the public members can’t be – or can’t appear to be to those of us outside the system – beholden to any individuals or groups when they are doing their Council business. The effectiveness of a Council member has nothing to do with where he or she came from and has everything to do with how well he or she is able to evaluate and assimilate a massive amount of scientific, anecdotal and socioeconomic data and to form opinions and make decisions based on that while, as the oath of office demands, “being careful to balance competing private or regional interests, and always aware and protective of the public interest in those resources.”
     The two Council members that Mr. McMurray exhorted his readers to “educate” have brought to the Council years of education and experience that have been focused primarily on recreational and party/charter fishing. Their and their fellow Council members’ education and experience is critical to the effective functioning of the Council process. But equally important – except perhaps in Mr. McMurray’s opinion – is the informed judgment that they bring to the Council table and their adherence to the principles they swore to in the oath they took on joining the Council.
     Mr. McMurray seems to think that Council members are there to represent the interests of particular groups or individuals and to advance the agendas of those groups/individuals rather than carefully considering all of the available information and then adopting a well-considered position that is balanced and protective of the public interest. If that were so the federal fisheries management process and the federal government is needlessly squandering an awful lot of our taxpayer dollars and  an awful lot of peoples’ time on what he obviously considers to be unnecessary wheel spinning.
     I don’t have any idea what Mr. McMurray was trying to accomplish by drawing public attention to two of his fellow Council members  who voted against his motion. However, I would be surprised if his doing so hasn’t and won’t have a chilling effect on how Council members vote in the future, no matter how convinced they are that their positions are justified. It’s hard to see how this hasn’t damaged a fishery management system that many of us have been struggling to make as effective as it can possibly be.
     (I’ll note here that some of the companies that support FishNet USA are involved in the Mackerel, Squid and Butterfish Fishery and are members of Garden State Seafood Association, which I also work for. But this is an issue that transcends particular fisheries or particular interests.)


Towards rationalit​y in fisheries management​/FishNet USA

Bearing in mind that each edition of The Economist has a print circulation of about 1.5 million, its website attracts about 8 million visitors each month, and that the people who read it are among the world’s most influential, consider the “take home” message that anyone with little or no knowledge of fisheries – maybe 99% of the readers – is being given; that stability of production in a fishery is an indication  of overfishing, and even more importantly, that overfishing is unacceptable because it limits  production.

Now we all know that sustainability is the managers’ goal in our fisheries. In fact, this goal is part of the legal underpinnings of each of the fisheries management plans in effect in – and sometimes beyond – the US Exclusive Economic Zone.

According to the legislation controlling fisheries management in US federal waters, the first National Standard for Fishery Conservation and Management is that “conservation and management measures shall prevent overfishing while achieving, on a continuing basis, the optimum yield from each fishery for the United States fishing industry.”  This is fine up to a point. The optimum yield from a fishery is defined in the Act as “(A) the amount of fish which will provide the greatest overall benefit to the Nation, particularly with respect to food production and recreational opportunities, and taking into account the protection of marine ecosystems; (B) is prescribed as such on the basis of the maximum sustainable yield from the fishery, as reduced by any relevant economic, social, or ecological factor.” No problems so far, the law recognizes that the optimum harvest from a fishery is not necessarily the maximum sustainable harvest.But then we have “(C) in the case of an overfished fishery, provides for rebuilding to a level consistent with producing the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) in such fishery.”

Adding their interpretation to this, the people at NOAA/NMFS, with the enthusiastic support of the various and sundry anti-fishing activists who pull way too many of the strings in Washington, have added as an administrative guideline that “the most important limitation on the specification of OY (optimum yield) is that the choice of OY and the conservation and  management measures proposed to achieve it must  prevent overfishing.”

So while OY from each fishery, determined with consideration given to relevant economic, social, or ecological factors, seems to be the goal of federal fisheries management, that is just window dressing. The real requirement is for each and every fishery to be at MSY.

From an administrative perspective, a perspective that has far more to do with the influence that the aforementioned activists had and continue to have than on the real-world needs of commercial and recreational fishermen and the communities and businesses that they support, this probably makes a certain amount of sense. After all, who could possibly argue about every fishery faithfully producing at maximum levels year after year? As the people at The Economist, at the ENGOs whose bank accounts are bloated with mega-foundation cash, and in the offices of Members of Congress who don’t have – or who don’t value – working fishermen as constituents want to convince us all, overfishing is something akin to the eighth deadly sin.

But is it?

From a real world perspective, a perspective that is shared by an increasing number of people who are knowledgeable about the oceans and their fisheries and who value the traditions and the communities that have grown up around them as well as the economic activity that fisheries are capable of producing, this proscription against “overfishing” is an ongoing train wreck.

And at this point, because it’s The Law, nothing can be done about it.

A hypothetical situation:

Suppose there was an important fishery that was the basis of a large part of the coastal economy as well as the cultural cement that held coastal communities together. Then suppose that fishery started to decline. If you were a fishery manager and you were in charge, what would you do? Though not in what should be the real world, that’s a simple question with an even more simple answer in today’s world of federal fisheries management. Regardless of any other factors you would cut back on fishing effort.

Suppose that didn’t work, suppose that the fishery continued to decline. What would you do then? Because you have no other realistic options you’d cut back on fishing effort even more.

And suppose even that didn’t work. If there were still any fishermen fishing, you’d cut back their fishing effort yet again. And again and again and again until you had gotten rid of them all, in spite of whether the cutbacks had any noticeable effects of the fish or not.

As we saw above, this would all be based on a so-called fishery management “plan” that was created under the strict requirements of a surprisingly short and what has become an even more surprisingly short sighted bit of federal legislation and the administrative interpretation of that legislation. The Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act (MSFCMA) – which was written initially with good intentions towards US fishermen and signed into law in 1976 – has been purposefully distorted by outside groups and individuals with no legitimate ties to or empathy with the businesses and people dependent on fishing but with huge budgets provided by mega-foundations which themselves are provided with a convenient government-supplied coordinating mechanism (See

Why is it a “so-called” management plan? Back a few more years than I’d like to acknowledge I spent some time in the graduate planning department at Rutgers University, concentrating on environmental planning. Not too surprisingly, one of the topics that came up repeatedly was rational planning; what it is and how to do it. Putting together a bunch of definitions and some foggy recollections, in creating a rational plan you 1) define a problem or a goal, 2) design                  alternative actions to solve the problem/achieve the goal, 3) evaluate each alternative action, 4) chose and implement the “best” alternative action, and 5) monitor/evaluate the outcome and adjust if necessary.

This seems pretty simple and straightforward. How does it apply to fisheries management plans? If the problem with the New England groundfish fishery is that there are people making a living based on harvesting groundfish and if the goal is to stop them from doing that, then the managers and the management plan are right on target. But I suspect that most involved individuals/organizations aren’t purposely planning to solve that problem/achieve that goal.

So why, after a seemingly endless series of less groundfish can only be fixed by less groundfish fishing iterations, are the groundfish fishermen – those who are still working – and the communities that depend on them just barely hanging on with fewer fish to catch following each cutback in fishing effort?

While this idea is going to be ridiculed by all of  those anti-fishing activists whose careers are predicated on blaming just about every ocean ill on overfishing, perhaps it’s because overfishing isn’t the problem that they’ve built multimillion dollar empires on by convincing the world – and the U.S. Congress – that it is.

But for the moment let’s pretend that we don’t have a fisheries management system that has been torqued into something worse than ineffectuality by their lobbying clout. Let’s pretend that the people responsible for creating fisheries management plans in general and the groundfish plan – actually the multispecies plan – in particular were trying to do some rational planning. Where would they go from here?

What about competition between species?

Obviously, having lived with the effectiveness – or  the lack thereof – of continuously cutting back on groundfish fishing, they’d look for an alternative or two (and no, opening parts of several previously closed areas of the EEZ while demanding full-time, industry paid observer on every vessel that fishes in them isn’t anything approaching a reasonable alternative). It’s hard to imagine that early on they wouldn’t consider the idea that other, competing species might be in part responsible for declining stocks. That’s the way the natural world has worked,  is working and will continue to work.


1953 – Spiny dogfish biomass unknown – “Voracious almost beyond belief, the dogfish entirely deserves its bad reputation. Not only does it harry and drive off mackerel, herring, and even fish as large as cod and haddock, but it destroys vast numbers of them. Again and again fishermen have described packs of dogs dashing among schools of mackerel, and even attacking them within the seines, biting through the net, and releasing such of the catch as escapes them. At one time or another they prey on practically all species of Gulf of Maine fish smaller than themselves, and squid are also a regular article of diet whenever they are found.” (Fishes of the                      Gulf of Maine, Bigelow, H.B. and W.C. Schroeder)


About ten years ago fishermen started complaining about the impact that the huge numbers of spiny dogfish off our coast were having on other much more valuable fisheries. As a result I organized a workshop on spiny dogfish/fisheries interactions in September of 2008 (see A Plague of Dogfish at and have attempted to keep informed of spiny dogfish biology since then. One of the ways that I do this is by keeping an eye on things like landings and survey data, which NOAA/NMFS makes readily available via various web pages.

Among the most interesting data sets I have found are the reports of the bottom trawl surveys which have been carried out by Northeast Fisheries Science Center vessels every year for over half a century (to access the recent reports go to  and click on “Cruise Results” in the menu on the left). The assumed reliability and reproducibility of these surveys is such that they are one of the primary data sources in the stock assessments for many of our important fisheries. In recent years spiny dogfish at times have comprised upwards of 50% by weight of all of the fish taken in these surveys.

Looking for another way of addressing the spiny dogfish situation, I put together a spreadsheet of the percentage (by weight) of spiny dogfish and Atlantic cod caught in the Spring and Autumn bottom trawl surveys for the last ten years and graphed the results (because the annual Winter survey was discontinued half way through this time period, I omitted it).

I was surprised to see how well the high abundance levels of spiny dogfish coincided with the low abundance levels of Atlantic cod – the primary groundfish species – and vice versa. (Note that this relationship wasn’t apparent in prior years.)
It seems in-your-face obvious that in recent years there been something going on between spiny dogfish and Atlantic cod abundance (I looked at the trawl survey results for a number of other species relative to spiny dogfish and none of them exhibited such a dramatic apparent relationship).

Of course this could be an example of post hoc ergo propter hoc (basically correlation doesn’t equal causation). But then again, it could not as well.


1992 – Spiny dogfish biomass estimated at 735 thousand metric tons: “given the current high abundance of skates and dogfish, it may not be possible to increase gadoid (cod and haddock) and flounder abundance without `extracting’ some of the current standing stock.” (Murawski and Idoine, Multi species size composition: A conservative property of exploited fishery systems in Journal of Northwest Atlantic Fishery Science, Volume 14: 79-85)


James Sulikowski at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine has been intensively involved in shark and ray research for twenty years. He is currently focusing on spiny dogfish and along with population and distribution work has begun to look at prey and predation. According to Dr. Sulikowski “preliminary analysis of stomach content data suggest  a high degree of dietary overlap between dogfish and Atlantic cod as Atlantic herring, Cluepea harengus, was found to be the primary prey item of both species. In addition, preliminary stable isotope data suggests evidence of niche overlap between cod and dogfish, although the extent of overlap may change seasonally. Collectively, the stomach content and stable isotope data suggests dogfish and cod are in competition for resources within this ecosystem.”

How does this apply to the current Northeast Multispecies (groundfish) Fisheries Management Plan?

In fact, it doesn’t apply at all. The multispecies plan is based on the assumption that fishing is the only thing influencing the groundfish stocks – including Atlantic cod. Considering that fishing is the only thing that federal legislation permits the New England Fishery Management Council to manage, its members have become quite adept at managing it. The fact that an extensive and still ongoing series of fishing cutbacks hasn’t stopped the decline of the primary groundfish species – led by Atlantic cod – seems to be irrelevant to them doing that.


1994 – Spiny dogfish biomass estimated as 514 thousand metric tons: “…preliminary calculations indicated that the biomass of commercially important species consumed by spiny dogfish was comparable to the amount harvested by man. Accordingly, the impact of spiny dogfish consumption on other species should be considered in establishing harvesting policies for this species.” (18th Stock Assessment Workshop, Northeast Fisheries Science Center).


The graph below shows the spiny dogfish total biomass estimates from the Northeastern Fisheries Science Center’s spring bottom trawl surveys. The highest estimated biomass, 1.131 million metric tons (or about 2.5 billion pounds), was in 2012 (from data in in Table 7 of Update on the Status of Spiny Dogfish in  2012 and Initial Evaluation of Harvest at the Fmsy  Proxy by Rago and Southesby and MAFMC staff and identified as not representing “any final agency                  determination or policy”). For reference, the total allowed catch (TAC) of spiny dogfish will be under 20,000 metric tons (the solid red line) a year for the next three years.


2008 – Spiny dogfish biomass estimated at 657 thousand metric tons: “All told, 87% of the stomach contentsfrom these particular Gulf of Maine caught dogfish (401 adult dogfish collected by University of New England researcher James Sulikowski and his students)  consisted of bony fish – with cod, herring, and sand lance being the top three species.” (J. Plante, Dogfish in the Gulf of Maine eat cod, herring, Commercial Fisheries News, May 2008).


The two graphs below – from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s web page Status of Fishery Resource off the Northeastern US – Atlantic cod ( show the decline of cod abundance calculated from both the Spring and Autumn bottom trawl surveys in the Gulf of Maine and on Georges Bank. Note that as the calculated spiny dogfish biomass (above) is increasing the biomass indices for Atlantic cod in both the Gulf  of Maine and on Georges Bank are decreasing correspondingly.

It has been reported that spiny dogfish consume 1.5% of their weight per day. That translates to them eating about 17000 metric tons of anything slower/smaller/less voracious than they are every day.


2009 – Spiny dogfish biomass estimated at 557 thousand metric tons: “our reason for ontacting you is to draw your attention to a severe and growing problem that we are all facing because of the supposed constraints imposed on the federal fisheries management system by the most recent amendments to the Magnuson Act. Because of the supposed necessity of having all stocks being managed at OY/MSY, all of our fisheries are and have been suffering from a plague of spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthias).” (Fishermen Organized for Rational Dogfish Management letter to NOAA head Jane Lubchenco).


Since 1950 the annual Atlantic cod landings in all US ports exceeded 50,000 metric tons only in 1980, ‘82 and ‘83. In 2011 they were 7,900 mt.

If there was one rational step that could be taken to try to return the Atlantic cod stocks off our Northeastern coast to former levels, it’s hard to imagine anything with more of a likelihood of success than significantly cutting back the population of spiny dogfish. But this isn’t possible because if the spiny dogfish stock is not at a level that could produce the maximum sustainable yield it would be overfished – and thanks to the successful lobbying of the anti-fishing claque managed fish stocks can’t be overfished.

In the face of all of this it’s kind of hard to think that the federal fisheries management system has as a goal anything but the elimination of New England’s codfish fishermen. Otherwise, how could an alternative to further futile decreases in fishing for cod not be an increase in fishing for spiny dogfish? That would seem to be a rational action, wouldn’t it (and rest assured that spiny dogfish impact many more species than Atlantic cod).
But it’s not, and with the MSFCMA written and interpreted the way it is it can’t be.

But the spiny dogfish plague isn’t the only fly in the “blame it all on overfishing” ointment. There’s an explosion in the population of seals in New England coastal waters as well. With the ability – or more  accurately, with the need – to consume 6% of their body weight per day, the almost 16,000 gray seals off Cape Cod are consuming far more fish than Cape Cod’s recreational and commercial fishermen could ever hope to catch. If they aren’t competing directly with the fishermen for cod and striped bass and flounder they are competing indirectly by eating the prey species that the fishermen’s targeted species eat. For a succinct and fairly balanced examination of the developing Cape Cod seal crisis see Thriving in Cape Cod’s Waters, Gray Seals Draw Fans and Foes by Bess Bidgood in the NY Times on August 17th. And there are burgeoning populations of other marine mammals as well as cormorants, birds that are protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. They are all highly efficient predators on smaller fish.

The Act will be reauthorized this year. In the reauthorization, unless the managers are once again given the ability to use their judgment we won’t be able to most effectively manage our federal fisheries  to maximize the benefit we can derive from them. The Magnuson management process was designed to benefit from the knowledge that people in the fishing industry and marine scientists have gained through uncounted years of on-the-water experience in dealing with an environment that is as strange to the rest of us as outer space and a lot more complex. The benefits of  that knowledge have been lost to the process because of legislated changes by people who and organizations  that are sorely lacking in that hands-on experience and think that there is one answer to every fishery-related problem – to cut back on fishing. Without that changing, without discretion being returned to the managers, our fisheries will increasingly follow the trajectory that the New England groundfish fishery is on. None of us – except perhaps for the ENGOs and the foundations that support them – either want or can afford that. Magnuson must be amended. Flexibility, with adequate safeguards, to deal with situations like the current dogfish plague must be restored to the management process. Rationality demands it.

Comment Here



Seafood certificat​ion – who’s really on first?


“Sustainability certification” has become a watchword of people in the so-called marine conservation community in recent years. However, their interest seems to transcend the determination of the actual sustainability of the methods employed to harvest particular species of finfish and shellfish and to use the certification process and the certifiers to advance either their own particular agendas or perhaps the agendas of those foundations that support them financially.
It doesn’t take an awful lot of sophisticated insight to recognize that a “sustainable” fishery is one that has been in operation in the past, is in operation presently, and will be in operation in the future. That’s what sustainability is all about – for lobsters, for fluke, for surfclams, for guavas, for hemp, for alpacas, in fact for anything that can be grown and/or harvested.

(Of course “marine conservationists” would have us believe that  a fishery that has a noticeable impact on the marine environment isn’t really sustainable. Imagine, if you can, a farm that has no environmental impact; in essence producing crops without interfering with the natural flora and fauna that “belong” there. That would get beef, cotton, soybeans, corn, mohair and what have you off the tables or out of the closets of perhaps 6 billion of the people who we share the world with, but if you are a committed marine conservationist, so what? The marine conservation community, and the foundations that support it, has been frighteningly successful in convincing people that  “sustainable fishing” is actually “no impact fishing,” but as we learned quite a few years ago, even hook and line fishermen catching one fish at a time can have a far from negligible environmental impact.)

Several recent events have increased the focus on sustainability and its use – or misuse – in attempts at influencing the buying  habits of the seafood consumers.

In the first of these, Walmart (the world’s largest retailer) now requires its fresh and frozen fish/seafood suppliers to “become third-party certified as sustainable using Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) or equivalent standards. By June 2012, all uncertified fisheries and aquaculture suppliers must be actively working toward certification.”

In the second, the National Park Service in the US Department of the Interior announced that all of its culinary operations “where seafood options are offered, provide only those that are ‘Best Choices’ or ‘Good Alternatives’ on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch list, certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, or identified by an equivalent program that has been approved by the NPS.” Senator Lisa Murkowski questioned Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis about this “recommendation” (the term he used) at an Energy and Natural Resources Committee. She asked whether NOAA (the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) was involved in formulating this recommendation. He responded that he didn’t know. Senator Murkowski responded “NOAA is the agency that makes the determination in terms of what’s sustainable (as far as fisheries are concerned) within this country”

When considered in a vacuum these are both interesting comments on the importance that is being put on “sustainability” by fish/seafood providers, and is indicative of a positive trend by consumers who are increasingly demanding that the products they  buy are produced in an environmentally acceptable manner.

And the fact that a federal agency, the National Park Service, would demand – or as Director Jarvis waffled – would recommend  that its vendors provide only seafood certified sustainable by two non-governmental organizations while ignoring the de facto certification that is implicit in federally managed fisheries is not likely to surprise anyone with any familiarity with the morass that the federal bureaucracy has become. However, neither Walmart nor the US Department of the Interior exists or operates in a vacuum, and it seems as if there is a bit more at work here than is obvious.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is the largest international organization – headquartered in London – providing fish and seafood sustainability certification. It was started in 1996 as a joint effort of the World Wildlife Fund, a transnational ENGO, and Unilever a transnational provider of consumer goods.

The chart below lists recent grants to the MSC by the Walton Family Foundation and the David and Lucille Packard Foundation in recent years.

Grants to MSC from Walton Family Foundation
2007    $1,640,000
2007    $820,000
2008    $1,675,000
2009    $1,700,000
2009    $1,700,000
2010    $4,622,500
2011    $3,122,500
2012    $1,250,000
Total    $16,530,000            

Grants to MSC from David and Lucille Packard Foundation
2005    $1,750,000
2006    $1,500,000
2006    $100,000
2006    $87,900
2007    $1,500,000
2008    $1,506,000
2008    $250,000
2009    $4,050,000
2010    $125,000
2011    $1,900,000
2012    $250,000
2012    $550,000
2013    $250,000
Total    $13,818,900            


The Monterey Bay Aquarium was established with an initial grant of $55 million from David and Lucille Packard. Their daughter Julie is Vice Chairman of the Packard Foundation. She is also Executive Director and Vice Chair of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Board of Trustees.

The MSC also lists the Resources Legacy Foundation as one of its supporters. The Resources Legacy Foundation has received $99 million from the Packard Foundation. One of its programs is the Sustainable Fisheries Fund, which along with its other activities provides funding ”reducing the financial hurdles confronting fishing interests that wish to adopt sustainable practices and potentially benefit from certification under MSC standards.”
According to Ms. Packard donated $75,000 to the 2012 Obama Victory Fund.

In both of these initiatives NOAA/NMFS, the organization that provides virtually all of the data and other information that sustainability determinations are based on, that is required by  federal law to stop unsustainable fishing in federal waters, and that performs its own sustainability analyses on those fisheries, has been completely left out of the picture.

All things being equal, this could just be passed off as business – and government ineptitude – as usual. However, when tens of millions of dollars in donations by mega-foundations with “marine conservation” agendas that are looked at skeptically by so many in the fishing industry are thrown into the mix, should this be considered as just more business as usual or does it warrant a much closer look?

Comment here



Fisheries Management​–More Than Meets The Eye

Last year I wrote After 35 years of NOAA/NMFS fisheries management, how are they doing? How are we doing because of their efforts? (        35 years of NOAA.pdf) I concluded with:

Our collective fisheries were never as badly off as grandstanding ENGOs convinced the public and our lawmakers that they were. Regardless of that, they are unquestionably in great shape now. Are the fishermen – the only people who have paid a price for that recovery – going to profit from it? At this point there aren’t a lot of indications that they are going to. Ill-conceived amendments to the Magnuson Act, the ongoing foundation-funded campaign to marginalize fishermen and to hold them victims of inadequate science, and a management regime that is focused solely on the health of the fish stocks and is indifferent to the plight of the fishermen effectively prevent that.

That having been a year ago, and statistics measuring the performance of our commercial fisheries for 2011 being available (, I thought I’d check back to see what, if anything, had changed.

Nationally, the total adjusted (to 2010 dollars) value of landings continued a gradual upswing that’s gone on intermittently since 2002/03. The post Magnuson (1976) low point in 2002 was under $4 billion, and by 2011 it had risen to over $5 billion, an increase of 35%. The adjusted value of the 2011 catch, $5.176 billion, was 76% of the highest total catch (in 1979) of $6.83 billion and 22%  above the average landings (from 1950 to 2011) of $4.25 billion.

All in all, the big picture is mostly positive. Unfortunately, the big picture is made up of a lot of smaller pictures, and some of them aren’t so good.

In the following chart I separated the value of the total landings in Alaska and the separate values of landings in American lobster, sea scallops and Southern shrimp (all species combined) from all other species.

For total value of landings in 2011 Alaska is at about 70% of where it was at its post Magnuson high ($1.84 billion vs $2.58 billion). Atlantic sea scallops were at their all-time record value ($485 million) and American lobster were at 89% of their all-time high ($405 million vs $456 million in 2005). Unfortunately the 2011 (Southern) shrimp landings were valued at only 34% of what they were at their highest ($472 million vs $1.333 billion in 1979).

In 1950 the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries reported landings of 223 distinct species or species groups (i.e. Shrimp, Dendrobranchiata  ). In 2011 the National Marine Fisheries Service reported landings of 460 species or species groups.
The 20 most valuable fisheries in 1950 and in 2011 and the percentage of their value to the total value of landings for that year are listed below:





Sea Scallop


Yellowfin Tuna


Shrimp (white & brown)


Eastern Oyster


American Lobster


Skipjack Tuna


Walleye Pollock (AK)


Pacific Sardine


Sockeye Salmon (AK)




Pacific Halibut (AK)




Pacific Cod (AK)


Sockeye Salmon (AK)


Dungeness Crab (AK)


Sea Scallop


Sablefish (AK)


Acadian Redfish


Blue Crab


American Lobster


Pink Salmon (AK)


Pacific Halibut (AK)




Chinook Salmon (AK)


Snow Crab (AK)


Quahog Clam


King Crab (AK)


Coho Salmon (AK)


Eastern Oyster


Pink Salmon (AK)


Chum Salmon (AK)


Chum Salmon (AK)


Pacific Geoduck Clam


Blue Crab


California Market Squid


Striped Mullet


Bigeye Tuna


Atlantic Cod


Pacific Hake (AK)


In the Mid-Atlantic in 2011 the total value of landings, $220 million, were 79% of the highest landings value reported ($279 million in 1979). However, sea scallops made up more than half of the total landings value (56%, $143 million v. $114 million). While the overall picture looks positive, the value of the landings in the Mid-Atlantic minus the sea scallop production have been in a steady decline since the late 90s and are at the lowest point ever.

In New England the situation is comparable, but both American lobster and sea scallop production are responsible for the overall “healthy” appearance. There was a slight upswing in the value of the other fisheries in recent years but it appears that with the planned – and in part implemented – reductions in the groundfish TAC, it seems as if this slight upswing won’t carry over.


Conservation and management measures shall, consistent with the conservation requirements of this Act (including the prevention of overfishing and rebuilding of overfished stocks), take into account the importance of fishery resources to fishing communities in order to (A) provide for the sustained participation of such communities, and (B) to the extent practicable, minimize adverse economic impacts on such communities. National Standard #8, Magnuson-Steven Fisheries Conservation and Management Act (As amended through October 11, 1996).


A looming problem in both the Mid-Atlantic and New England is a pending cutback in the sea scallop quota for the next fishing year that at this point is expected to approach 40%. While the effects of a cut of this magnitude will obviously be significant to the scallop fleet, there will be not so obvious but potentially devastating effects on the other fisheries and on fishing communities as well.

A complex of ancillary businesses is required to operate a commercial fishing dock. These include vessel/equipment maintenance and repair facilities, ice plants, chandleries and shippers/truckers. Obviously it requires a certain level of business – a minimum amount of revenue coming “across the dock” –  for them to stay open. In the Mid-Atlantic a 40% cut in scallop revenues will be more than a 20% cut in commercial fishing revenues in a single year. In New England it will be somewhat less than that, but it will be combined with whatever additional cuts result from the proposed groundfish cuts.

I’m not that familiar with all of the fishing ports in the Mid-Atlantic and New England but have a fairly good understanding of those in New Jersey, and in New Jersey there isn’t one commercial port that lands fish from the ocean-going fleet that is mostly – or even largely – focused on scallops. They all handle a mix of fish and shellfish. A large part of their longevity is due to the fact that they have maintained a reasonable amount of flexibility thanks to their diverse fleets. But a drastic cutback in scallop revenues, particularly if it is coupled with the continuing decline in the revenues from other fisheries, will threaten that longevity.

The proposed scallop cutback has been presented as a temporary  measure, and the Fisheries Survival Fund – representing the majority of limited access scallop fishermen in New England and the Mid-Atlantic and other industry groups are working to ameliorate the proposed cuts, but when it comes to businesses that are waterfront dependent a two year temporary reduction could easily become permanent before the cutbacks are restored. Except for the lull over the past several years there have been intense development pressures at the Jersey Shore and on most of the waterfront areas from Cape Hatteras North. It’s just about assured that they will be back to their customary levels very shortly.

Originally the Magnuson Act placed much more emphasis on business- and community-supportive aspects of federal fisheries management. Those aspects have been eroded by the lobbying activities of the handful of ENGOs that have come to dominate the world of fisheries/oceans activism. They, and for the most part NOAA/NMFS  as well, address fish issues on a case by case, species by species basis. More importantly, the people at NOAA/NMFS tend to shy away from cumulative economic impacts when they have analyses done, and cumulative impacts are what most of the commercial fishermen, the people who depend on them and the businesses they support have to deal with – and in New England and the Mid-Atlantic (at least, and this isn’t to slight the industry elsewhere, because I doubt that it’s different in many other ports) in spite of increasing total landings value, it could be getting a lot worse really soon.

Comment here



A staggering loss to U.S. fishermen and U.S. seafood consumers.

Nils E.Stolpe  FishNet USA/June 26, 2013

 It was back in June of 2008 that I first became aware of Richard Gaines’ work in the Gloucester Times in a three part series exploring the interplay between fishermen, feds, ENGOs and the mega-foundations that funded them in a controversial move to close Stellwagen Bank to fishing (see for the first installment). A letter about the series I wrote to Times Editor Ray Lamont started “kudos to Richard Gaines for reporting what is going on behind the smoke and mirrors obscuring the struggle to maintain the historical fisheries that have thrived on Stellwagan Bank for generations. He couldn’t be more on-target when writing ‘Pew is associated with public information campaigns against fishing and fish consumption.’”

This started a friendship between Richard and me that, I was amazed to discover, had lasted for less than five years. I know it enriched my life. I can only hope it enriched my writing as well.

Returning from a business trip on Sunday, June 9, Nancy Gaines found her husband Richard dead of an apparent heart attack at their home just outside of Gloucester.

Richard was a journalist’s journalist. Unlike the average “reporter” covering fisheries/ocean issues today, he gave press releases – and the contacts they provide – the minimal initial credence that they generally deserve. He was always looking for the story behind the press release and with a combination of integrity, skill and tenacity he usually found it. In five years he developed a surprisingly sophisticated understanding of what has become a cumbersomely complex federal fisheries management process – and of the political machinations behind it. Whether it was about the multi-billion dollar foundations behind the environmental activist organizations that have become so adept at making life miserable for fishermen, or a federal fisheries enforcement establishment that was allowed to enrich itself with tens of millions of dollars coerced from the fishing industry, Richard was covering it, covering it thoroughly and covering it well.

It’s going to be harder on all of us because he’s no longer there to do it.

Richard was memorialized fittingly by Ray Lamont in Community, industry mourn loss of a champion at, North Carolina Congressman Walter Jones honored him with a statement to the U.S. House of Representatives available in the Congressional Record ( and I can’t add much to what they and dozens of other folks have written in the last week other than offering his wife Nancy, his family and coworkers my deepest sympathy. And I’d suggest that after reading this you spend a few minutes watching an interview of Richard done by Good Morning Gloucester at If you weren’t lucky enough to know him this will tell you much of what you should know about him and his work.

And while on the subject of press releases….

“The Attorney General is wrong on the law and she is wrong on the facts,” said Peter Shelley, senior counsel with CLF, who has been actively engaged in fisheries management for more than 20 years. “Political interference like this action by Attorney General Coakley has been a leading cause of the destruction of these fisheries over the past twenty years, harassing fishery managers to ignore the best science available….We need responsible management which includes habitat protection and a suspension of directed commercial and recreational fishing for cod. We also need some serious leadership from our elected officials. Going to court or getting up on a political soapbox will not magically create more fish.” (from a Conservation Law Foundation press release on May 31.”

It’s kind of hard to believe that just about immediately after this press release went out the  Conservation Law Foundation – along with the Pew spawned Earthjustice (recipient of some $20 million from the Pew Charitable Trusts) – filed suit in federal court to prevent NOAA from cutting the groundfish fishermen the tiniest bit of slack, perhaps allowing more of them to survive a largely management manufactured slump. It seems that in the release Mr. Shelley must have meant other people going to court or getting up on a political soapbox will not magically create more fish. However if  it’s me or my foundation funded buds going to court, watch out ‘cause those fish will shortly be on the way.”

I usually stay away from New England issues because my colleagues up there are more than capable – in spite of the gross inequities resulting from the mega-foundation mega-buck funding of organizations like the Conservation Law Foundation and Earthjustice – of representing their own interests. However I couldn’t sit back and not comment on the CLF position voiced by Peter Shelley in an article, Conservation group sues NOAA to block openings, byRichard Gaines on June 6.

Explaining how the CLF/Earthjustice position wasn’t hypocritical, Mr. Shelley explained “the distinction for me is that I have seen time and time again when politicians — in this case the attorney general — hasn’t participated in the (fisheries management) process, and then comes in to try to influence the process in litigation. They’re not taking a legal position, there’s not much there except politics.”(

To suggest that this is a more than slightly puzzling statement for an attorney to make would be an understatement. Mr. Shelley must believe – or must want other people to believe – that Attorney General Coakley was acting on her own when filing the suit. Apparently he believes – or wants us to believe – that because she has never personally participated in the fishery management process her suit has no merit. He is and has been, it would seem, in attendance at many meetings in New England at which fish are discussed and it appears as if in his view this makes his suit de facto righteous and hers nothing more than political posturing.

Massachusetts  Attorney General hasn’t participated in fisheries management?

Let’s examine his contention that the Massachusetts Attorney General hasn’t participated in the (fisheries management) process in a little more depth. First off, I doubt very much that Attorney General Coakley  brought the suit on her own behalf. In fact, I’d bet dollars to donuts that she brought it on behalf of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Even Mr. Shelley must know that the Commonwealth, via a succession of capable and effective representatives, has for at least the last forty or so years participated heavily in federal fisheries management via the Magnuson Fisheries Conservation and Management Act. Either Paul Diodati, Director of the Commonwealth’s Division of Marine Fisheries, or David Pierce, the Deputy Director, are at every meeting of the New England Fishery Management Council and Dr. Pierce is a member of that Council’s Groundfish Committee (as well as its Herring, Sea Scallop and ad hoc Sturgeon Committees and the Mid-Atlantic council’s Dogfish and Herring Committees). Mr. Diodati is also the Chairman of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the Co-Director of the Massachusetts Marine Fisheries Institute. They aren’t on these bodies on their own behalf either. They are there representing the Commonwealth as well. And before they were there, their predecessors were, and they were just as deeply involved.

This commitment to and participation in the fisheries management process by the various representatives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts began long before Mr. Shelley, the CLF and the Pew Trusts discovered each other. The Commonwealth, as represented in the current suit by the Attorney General whose participation Mr. Shelley seems so intent in marginalizing, established its bona fides in fisheries management at least a century ago (and will hopefully remain involved far beyond the point when Mr. Shelley, the CLF and Pew move on to “greener” pastures).

In fact the groundfish management measures that Mr.Shelley’s justifiable (in his estimation) suit is aimed at were a work product of the New England Fisheries Management Council, an institution which was established by the Magnuson Act in 1976 that has been in continuous operation – with overlapping changes in membership and administration –  since then. And in spite of Mr. Shelley’s so apparent disagreement with this fact, the Council is mandated by the Act to manage for the benefit of the fish, the fishermen and the fishing communities. The Council members voted by an over 75% majority (13 to 3) to support the measures that Mr. Shelley et al are now going to court – of course in a non-political fashion – to prevent. As opposed to Mr. Shelley’s “more than twenty years” trumpeted in the CLF press release,how many hundreds of years of collective fisheries science and management experience do the Council members and staff possess? How many collective years of management experience do the Council members whose votes Mr. Shelley and his pals are going to court to nullify have.

Evidently it isn’t fisheries management experience that Mr. Shelley finds so valuable. It’s whose management experience that matters.

These are the people, the agencies, the institutions, the experience and the actions behind the Commonwealth’s lawsuit – the one that Mr. Shelley wants us to believe is based on nothing more than “political posturing.”

And what of the constituencies being represented? Attorney General Coakley’s constituency is made up in large part of Massachusetts fishermen, all of those people, families and businesses that depend on them, all of the Commonwealth’s consumers who, apparently unlike Mr. Shelley et al, realize that a seafood dinner should involve something more satisfying and wholesome than a several-times-frozen lump of imported shrimp, tilapia or swai, and all of them, and us, who seriously appreciate fishing traditions going back to colonial times.

On the other hand, from what I’ve been able to discover (see, Mr. Shelley’s, CLF’s and Earthjustice’s “constituents” are a handful of mega-foundations and well-to-do-donors, and I’d imagine a lot of internet “click here if you don’t like fishermen or fishing” residents of anywhere (but I’ll again bet those same dollars to those same donuts that very few of them are in coastal Massachusetts).

So few groundfish?

Then Mr.Shelley brings up what he wants us to consider the “fact” that there are so few groundfish available to the fishermen that they are no longer filling their annual quotas. To the uninformed (those “click here” constituents, for example) this probably seems a compelling argument for shutting down the fisheries, Mr. Shelley’s often stated goal. It must make sense to many people who are unfamiliar with our modern fisheries “management” regime as it has been distorted by lobbying by environmental activist organizations like CLF. In fact, however, there are other and much more believable causes of uncaught quota than not enough fish.

The first of these would be the existence of so-called “choke” species. Much more valuable fisheries can be shut down because of unavoidable bycatch of other species with much lower quotas. Take the situation in which two species – the targeted species and the “choke” species – are inextricably mixed during part of the fishing year. Fishermen, tending to be rational even when dealing with an irrational system such as the one that Mr. Shelley and his cronies have built, will avoid the target species in spite of its abundance because they know full well that when the catch limit for the “choke” species is reached both  fisheries will be shut down. In essence they are leaving the uncaught quota “in the bank” for later harvest. Needless to say, that later harvest isn’t guaranteed and it’s easy to imagine that in many instances it remains uncaught.

Then there are the meager trip limits for some stocks. Catch shares or not, in instances it just isn’t worth it for some fishermen to run their boats offshore for a few hundreds of pounds – or less – of fish. They’ll remain tied to the dock or will target other species with quotas that will allow them more income.

And we can’t forget low prices at the dock. Fish markets have adjusted to the recent vast swings in supply of some of the traditional species (a testament to the lack of effectiveness of our fisheries management system) by switching to alternative products. With the most productive fishing grounds in the world in our EEZ it’s hard to imagine that tilapia is the most heavily consumed finfish in the U.S., but it is. Compensating for these often low prices is a large part of the reason for the development of alternative markets for our domestic fisheries, but it’s somewhere between extremely difficult and impossible to move large quantities of fish in small lots.

Then there’s the impact of changing environmental conditions on the traditional availability of species, Said most simply, fish aren’t necessarily where they have been found by fishermen for generations. Though Mr. Shelley apparently want you to think that means they’re not there at all, that’s not necessarily so. Fish stocks are dependent on water temperatures, as are the critters they feed on, and water temperatures have been changing significantly in recent years. Some areas that used to reliably produce a particular species of fish at a particular time of the year no longer do so. With the meager quotas and the continually increasing costs of running a boat a fisherman isn’t as likely to search for where the water temperature changes have driven the fish. Economics won’t allow it.

Additionally, fish surveys are operated as if our U.S. coastal waters exist in a steady state; that conditions today  are as they were when the survey was started. The same spots are sampled at the same time every year, and when a particular species is no longer  taken in the sample or is taken in reduced numbers, the automatic assumption is that fishing is the cause of “the problem” and that reducing or curtailing (ala Mr. Shelley) fishing is the solution. Compounding the real problem, the reduced availability of research funds, the probability of extending the scope of the surveys is pretty low.

In a follow-up article on June 10, Shelley elaborated that the suit filed by Attorney General Coakley was “political ‘soapbox’ posturing” while“our suits are not political… they’re strictly based on the facts, and we do it as a last resort”(

Attorney General Coakley, Governor Patrick et al, please keep on keeping on. Effective fisheries management should involve much more than happy fish and happy ENGOs. When Congress passed the Magnuson Act in 1976 the Members realized this and it’s about time that the pendulum gets pushed back in the direction that it was intended to swing in. Fish count, but so do fishermen, fishing communities and seafood consumers. If the U.S. fishing industry is to survive, the initial balance that was amended out of the Act by intensive lobbying by foundation funded activists claiming to represent the public must be restored.

For more information on Shelley’s/the Conservation Law Foundation/Earthjustice lawsuit see Conservation Law Foundation & Earthjustice Make Unfounded Claims in Lawsuit Filing   at


For those of you who were interested in the FishNet piece (available at tuna and Pew.pdf ) on the ongoing attempts by the Pew Trusts, one of Mr. Shelley’s benefactors, to steer the Bluefin tuna management meeting this week in Montreal, the critique of the claims of the Pew people attempting the steering are available on the Saving Seafood website at I’d suggest that you take the time to read it and the Saving Seafood special report on Bluefin tuna at


FishNet – USA/June 24, 2013         Nils E. Stolpe

On August 13, 1997 Josh Reichert, then Director of the Pew Trusts Environment Program and now Executive Vice President of the Trusts, in an op-ed column in the Philadelphia Inquirer titled Swordfish technique depletes the swordfish population wrote “the root problem is not only the size of the (swordfish) quota, the length of the season, or the  number of vessels involved. It is how the fish are caught…. Use of longlines must be barred…. the fishery should be open to all – provided that swordfish are caught with hand gear, including harpoons and rod and reel. No swordfish should be taken until it has a chance to breed at least once, meaning that the minimum allowable catch size should be no less than 100 pounds. Such measures…. would put the  Atlantic swordfish population back on the road to recovery.


In what has become typical Pew style, Mr. Reichert’s article was just a small piece of a frightfully well-funded campaign to “save the swordfish” from the depredations of the U.S. pelagic longline  fleet. Involving scientists who had been willing riders on the  Pew funding gravy train, enlisting restaurateurs into the campaign who hadn’t the foggiest idea what swordfishing or pelagic longlining was all about, and using the formidable Pew media machine which had earned its legitimacy with tens of millions of dollars in grants to journalism schools and broadcast outlets, Mr. Reichert and his minions set out to destroy an entire fishery and the lives of the thousands of hard working Americans who depended on it.

This could have dealt a devastating blow to the U.S. longline fleet. Exacerbating a bad situation, it would have also resulted in the transfer of the uncaught quota from the strictly regulated U.S. boats to other vessels whose regulation was much less rigorous. Without question removal of the U.S. longline fleet would have had a negative impact on swordfish conservation.

Fortunately a swordfish management program to reduce fishing effort to where it was in balance with the resource had been put in place by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) years before Mr. Reichert and Pew “discovered” swordfish. By the time the Pew people and the Pew dollars entered the fray this program was already paying obvious conservation dividends. Then a closure of swordfish nursery areas off Florida, a closure which was supported by the U.S. longline fleet, was also put in place. This assured the recovery of the swordfish stock in the Western North Atlantic.

This was a testament to fisheries management based on sound science, not on media hype only affordable by multi-billion dollar corporations and foundations.  In spite of self-serving claims to the contrary, the Pew peoples’ prodigious yet misguided efforts to scuttle the pelagic longline fleet – and their obvious lack of understanding of swordfish management – changed virtually nothing about the fishery or about how it was being managed.

But what has changed in the intervening years is the way in which the rest of the (non-Pew) world looks at pelagic longlining in general and the U.S. pelagic longline fleet in particular. Thanks to significant efforts by the U.S. participants  in this fishery, they have become the undisputed world leaders in developing and implementing fishing gear and fishing techniques to drastically reduce or eliminate the incidence of bycatch in their fishery. And despite Mr. Reichert’s dire predictions and those of Pew’s stable of scientists, the doom and gloom predicted for swordfish if longlining was allowed to continue never developed. Today, as the pelagic longline fishery continues, the swordfish stock is fully rebuilt. In fact, the fishery is in such good shape that it was recently certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.

So now Bluefin tuna     

To quote the inimitable Yogi Berra, “it’s déjà vu all over again.” Fifteen years later the same cast of characters and the same organizations are using the same tired and ineffective strategy funded by the same sources to derail the management of another highly migratory fish species, the Atlantic bluefin tuna (ABT).

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the same body that is responsible  for swordfish management in the Atlantic, is holding a meeting of fisheries scientists and managers in Montreal at the end of this month to review the ABT stock assessment. The outcome of this review will have much to do with determining what the total allowable catch (TAC) of these valuable fish will be in the coming years. The TAC is divided between rereational fishermen, rod and reel commercial fishermen, harpooners, purse seiners (currently none are in the U.S. fishery) and pelagic longliners (who don’t target ABT but do take some incidentally).

While the public’s view of the value of these fish has been purposely distorted – each year one fish, supposedly the first and the best of the year, is sold at a Japanese auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars as a marketing ploy – they      are valuable, with a prime fish bringing thousands of dollars (the National Geographic Channel offers a largely accurate portrayal of the rod and reel ABT fishery in its series Wicked Tuna).

In what is no surprise to anyone with even a nodding acquaintance with fisheries management issues, the folks at Pew have mounted yet another well-funded campaign to influence the outcome of this ICCAT assessment review. They are using the same flashy and expensive techniques and have enlisted a similar claque of experts to “save the tuna” as they used in the late 90’s to save the swordfish.

As was so convincingly  demonstrated by the complete recovery of the swordfish stocks in spite of continued harvesting by the longline fleet, Pew science as voiced by Pew scientists was then far from the last word in the world of  fisheries      management. That hasn’t changed. Nor has their strategy. The same hackneyed messages of doom and gloom by the same overwrought scientists are presented as if they represent the main stream of fisheries research.

Rather than being swayed by their efforts to make the playing field at the upcoming meeting in Montreal as uneven  as the billions of dollars backing them up will allow, it’s crucial that the independent science as espoused by the independent scientists speak for itself.

As with swordfish almost a generation ago, we trust that the scientists and managers in Montreal this week will not be swayed by all of the hyperbole that they will find aimed directly at them, will evaluate the existing science for what it is, not for what the Pew people will try to tell them it is, and make decisions that are right for the fish and right for the fishermen.

We should note here that there seems to be no limit to what the people at the Pew Trusts will spend in their attempts to convince anyone who will listen to reduce or eliminate fishing but when it comes to investing even negligible resources into efforts to more accurately and extensively sample the fish stocks they seem so intent on saving, something that everyone agrees is necessary for more effective management, they seem singularly uninterested.

Comment here

NILS STOLPE: The New England groundfish debacle (Part IV): Is cutting back harvest really the answer?

The “blame it all on fishing” management philosophy “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” (A. Maslow, 1966, The Psychology of Science)

NILS STOLPE Fishnet USA – While it’s a fact that’s hardly ever acknowledged, the assumption in fisheries management is that if the population of a stock of fish isn’t at some arbitrary level, it’s because of too much fishing. Hence the term “overfished.” Hence the mandated knee jerk reaction of the fisheries managers to not enough fish; cut back on fishing. What of other factors? They don’t count. It’s all about fishing, because fishing is all that the managers can control; it’s their Maslow’s Hammer. When it comes to the oceans it seems as if it’s about all that the industry connected mega-foundations that support the anti-fishing ENGOs with hundreds of millions of dollars a year in “donations” are interested in controlling. Read the article here

From Nils Stolpe – Remember the fishing-induced “plague of jellyfish” that was threatening the oceans…? Remembering the “Worm” hook! Refuted

    Brought to us, of course, by the Walton Foundation, EDF and Dr. Lubchenco as a reason to shift fisheries to catch share management immediately? A National Academy of Sciences study – Recurrent jellyfish blooms are a consequence of global oscillations – refutes that (now there’s a surprise!) contention. The article is available here. National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Happy New Year – and sleep soundly, knowing that we aren’t being threatened by hoards of slimy, nematocyst-brandishing cnidaria,


Boris Worm outed himself with an email that oceans full of jellyfish were the future by 2048, and he used it as a “hook’ in “Oceans of Abundance” the EDF, Walmart bought and paid for doctrine that hooked Lubchenco to the Obama administration. Seem’s though there’s more to it, and the “Smart from the Start” program of ocean industrialization along the East Coast of windmills and drill rig’s is the administrations answer to jellyfish aquaculture!

Federal fisheries enforcement and the 2012 election – a purposeful cover-up? By Nils Stolpe

Here are the facts.

Federal fisheries enforcement and the 2012 election – a purposeful cover-up?  

Fact: Senator Scott Brown (Republican) and candidate Elizabeth Warren (Democrat) are in a close race for one of the two Massachusetts seats in the United States Senate.

Fact: A majority in the United States Senate, which is now in the hands of the Democratic Party, is considered by many pundits to be “up for grabs” in the rapidly approaching election, and the outcome in Massachusetts will be critical in determining which party controls the Senate – and the United States Congress – starting in 2013.

Fact: Senator Scott Brown has been an ardent supporter of the commercial fishing industry and has been particularly outspoken about an ongoing investigation of corruption at the highest levels of the enforcement branch of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Fact: New Englanders in general and residents of Massachusetts in particular tend to be extremely supportive of their fishing communities and of the fishing heritage that has played such a significant role in shaping the character of their coastline.

Fact: A 514 page report on the follow-up investigation by Special Master Charles Swartwood of NOAA enforcement abuses of fishermen and fishing associated businesses centered in New England and primarily in Massachusetts was completed and delivered to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce in March of 2012.

Fact: In spite of strong bipartisan Congressional prodding to make the report public, prodding in which Senator Scott Brown has assumed a leadership role, (Acting) Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank has refused to do so. To her credit Elizabeth Warren, his opponent, has been seeking the release of the report as well.

Fact: Massachusetts Senator John Kerry’s brother, Cameron Kerry, is general counsel of the Department of Commerce. READ MORE

Bycatch – From problem to opportunity. Nils E. Stolpe/FishNet USA

For as long as I have been involved in the commercial fishing industry, and that’s going back for what is approaching forty years, there has been a widespread feeling that “things would be better if this industry were administratively housed in the Department of Agriculture (DOA).” Whether at the state level, in state waters within three miles of the coastline, or the federal level beyond three miles, there’s always been a sort of wistful “wouldn’t it be great if we were over there” view of the DOA, and the reasons for this aren’t awfully difficult to fathom. The Department of Agriculture, no matter whether state or federal, is mostly focused on promotion, and fisheries agencies, no matter the level, are regulatory in nature, in organization and in attitude. This is glaringly obvious with the National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal fisheries agency, which in recent years has become almost totally focused to the virtual exclusion of anything else on limiting – rather than enhancing – the commercial production of fish and shellfish. >click to read< 15:06