My View: The need for real science in Magnuson by Carmine Gorga


If there are no fish at docks in Gloucester, it is not because there are no fish in the ocean.

It is because the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is virtually prohibiting fishermen to fish. The reason is that NOAA is expected by its empowering legislation, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, to prevent overfishing. But how can a dwindling family fishing fleet do the overfishing?

Any open-minded observer is concluding that NOAA is applying an agenda-driven science.

We owe much gratitude to Scott Lang, a former mayor of New Bedford, for giving to the Gloucester Daily Times the latest list of arbitrary changes of mind by NOAA.

The emphasis is on yellowtail flounder, a “choke” species. You are liable to catch this fish as incidental catch. As soon as you reach the amount allotted to you, you had better stop fishing altogether.

If you are caught with an extra pound of this fish in your nets, you are heavily penalized. There goes the season for you. This small species is that important.

As Lang points out, several studies presented at an official meeting last April showed the biomass of yellowtail flounder at an upper limit of 11,000 metric tons (mt). On the basis of this estimate, it was agreed that fishermen in New England and Canada could safely fish 1,000 mt without endangering the species.

Yet, the proposed catch quota was eventually set at 553 mt. — a 50 percent cut in the possible quota.

What is the basis for this decrease in NOAA’s “catch advice”? What was the basis for the initial estimate, for that matter?

NOAA can be so absolute with numbers, because they are presented as unquestionable scientific data. Let us therefore give a deep, respectful look into this claim.

The science that NOAA uses is the science of surveys. NOAA derives most of its numbers from sporadic and sparse surveys of the vast ocean.

The science of surveys is this: You know the universe; scientifically build a miniature sample to reflect the universe as closely as possible; scientifically analyze the numbers you gather in surveys.

This is the fundamental problem with NOAA’s claims about science. NOAA uses an inverted science, a science turned upside down.

From its tiny samples, NOAA wants to understand the immense universe of the ocean. Agenda, yes; science, no.

There is no science supporting NOAA’s numbers. What we find is numerology. Pick a number, any number— with the additional Rule of the House, “If I like it.” If it fits NOAA’s ideology, that will be the quota set for the coming season.

What are the internal and external ideological forces, consciously or subconsciously, driving NOAA’s agenda?

First is reliance on Scientism, rather than science: Damn the complex dynamic reality, full speed ahead with whatever numbers we have.

Then there is excessive reliance on Statism: Contrary to the wise beliefs of our Founding Fathers, this is the assumption that government knows better than the individual entrepreneur, better than the local community.

And then there is the mentality that has given us the deindustrialization of America: We are destroying jobs at sea and on land; we are importing 90 percent of the fish we consume; we are inflicting great stress on our balance of payments.

Has NOAA joined the clandestine war on profits — especially profits of others?

These deep roots of NOAA’s actions reveal much of what goes awry in America today. It does not need to be that way. It is not good for America; it is not even good for NOAA.

All this is a great pity. Not only because lives of people and glorious histories of communities are being decimated by NOAA’s policies.

The pity is that there is a scientific model on the shelves of any library. And NOAA is not using it, because it involves mastery of higher mathematics and systems dynamic analysis. This is the science of the predator-prey model of the biomass.

This model assures us that, when overfishing occurs, apart from the destructive practices of large corporations, overfishing is done by natural predators.

When stocks of bottom fish are depleted, stocks of pelagics are abundant — and vice versa, in a never-ending zig-zag pattern.

NOAA needs to enter the ongoing national conversation and ask Congress to amend its enabling legislation, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, to include the mandate to analyze the fisheries in light of this model of the behavior of any biomass.

When NOAA learns everything about life cycles of fish, then helps fishermen to harvest the abundant predators of the moment, that is scientific fisheries management.

Carmine Gorga is president of Polis-tics Inc., an economics consulting firm in Gloucester

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