In Wake of Cod Fishery Closures, Environmental Defense Fund Proposes 100 Percent Monitoring as Path Forward to Rebuild Fishery

Posted on November 24, 2014

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EDITORS NOTE : We reprint in its entirety the following press release sent to us by the Fishing Industry’s public relations office. It recaps in detail the problem with our local cod fishery and what can be done to revive it while harvesting other, temptingly tasty fish currently ignored.

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Boston, MA (November 19, 2014) – The Environmental Defense Fund announced today a new proposal calling for 100 percent monitoring of groundfish fishing boats in New England. Comprehensive monitoring is critical to help rebuild the fishery and avoid the total collapse of the cod industry in New England.

This announcement comes in response to a recent decision by federal regulators to close large areas of the New England cod fishery for six-months. Cod stocks are at their lowest point in 40 years – just 3 to 4 percent of what is a considered healthy stock.

Currently just 20 percent of all fishing boats in New England are monitored. Monitoring plays a crucial role in understanding what fish are being caught, how much is being caught and what amount is discarded and tossed back into the oceans. This leads to better science, which in turn generates more accurate stock assessments and catch limits. High catch accountability through effective monitoring is fundamental to sustainable fisheries management.

“Given the massive scale of this crisis, we simply cannot continue to operate in the dark. This fishery is too important,” said Matt Mullin, regional director of EDF’s oceans program in New England.

“Increased monitoring will directly address an ongoing, fundamental flaw in our fishery management – the fact that we do not have an accurate assessment of what is being caught on 80 percent of boats.”
In other parts of the country such as the Pacific, where just a decade ago the fishery was declared a federal disaster, monitoring has played a critical role in the rebuilding of fish stocks. Following the implementation of a management system that mandated 100 percent monitoring and accountability, that fishery saw more accurate science and the rebound of several stocks. It has now been officially certified as sustainable.

“The time for false hope has passed and the need for leadership is paramount,” continued Mullin. “This fishery is on the brink of collapse, but there are steps that can be taken to help rebuild the stock and ensure the future of the fishery. Though these solutions will be challenging, they are imperative to ensuring that the New England cod industry does not become a footnote in history.”

In addition to 100 percent monitoring, EDF is working to develop better strategies to help fishermen avoid catching cod, and is calling for a greater investment to determine the impact of climate change on the fishery. A recent study showed that the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans, which has major implications for cod spawning and feeding. Underlying fisheries science must begin to account for that.

EDF is also proposing a more robust effort to market and promote underutilized fish species that are less known, but abundant in local waters.

“Thankfully, cod is not the only fish in our oceans. There are a variety of species that are plentiful in local waters that fishermen know how to catch, but lack the recognition of the iconic cod,” said Mullin. “As we work to rebuild cod stocks, we can also introduce new consumer marketing strategies to help promote and create demand for these sustainable and plentiful fish, such as Pollock, haddock and redfish. The bottom line is that in order to keep fishermen working during this period of stress for the industry the fishery needs to reenvision itself away from cod and towards more abundant stocks.”

The good news is that the demand for these abundant species is there. A study released by UMass Dartmouth showed strong support among Massachusetts’ consumers to try new fish varieties, particularly when those efforts supported local fishermen and enabled struggling groundfish stocks to recover.

The study, “Identifying New Market Opportunities for Groundfish Species in New England,” indicates that availability and sustainability are key issues for consumers when deciding what types of fish to eat. Seventy-two percent of respondents described availability as at least somewhat important, and 70 percent described sustainability as somewhat or very important. In addition, 75 percent of consumers surveyed said that where a fish is from is somewhat or very important when deciding what type of fish to eat.

“Massachusetts is home to a variety of institutions with large purchasing power, such as our colleges and universities, state agencies, and hospital and healthcare networks, to name just a few,” added Mullin. “If we get creative and make the marketing of these underutilized but delicious fish a priority, we can support fishermen during this difficult period and ensure a strong fishery for the future.”
— Krista Barnaby of O’Neill & Associates

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