By Mike Johnson
Protecting our national fish stocks from ruin by overfishing is a national imperative that requires both good management and solid science. NOAA, the agency responsible for managing our fisheries, is incapable of even adequate management, as shown by a recent independent review by Preston Pate.
At a 4/13/11 Senate subcommittee hearing (video from minute 98), Senator Ayotte of New Hampshire challenged NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco: "NOAA has been relying on ... incomplete and sometimes non-existent [fisheries] data." Dr. Lubchenco responded with the expected evasion and the familiar patronizing talking point about "best available science information that we have."
Dr. Lubchenco, what if your best available science is not very good? What if, in fact, it is flawed? This is not a rhetorical question, as there is evidence that the vaunted NOAA fisheries science is indeed unsound.
Every year, by law, NOAA puts out a fisheries report to the Congress. This is NOAA's chance to show off in the very best light. Table 1 of NOAA's annual report to Congress on the 2009 Status of U.S. Fisheries covers 522 fish stocks. Twenty-three percent of the most important 230 stocks have no data, being termed either "unknown" or "undefined." Is this what we have to show for forty years of effort -- a three-quarter understanding of our important fish stocks? Overall, of the 522 stocks, 51% have no data. No data on over half of the fish stocks, and this is our best available science?
Of course, the annual fisheries report does not say anything about the plight of the fishermen. NOAA instituted a management system known as catch shares into New England fisheries in May 2010. At the same time, NOAA reduced the annual catch limits (ACL) from the previous year by some 30%-50%. The results have been as precipitous as they were predictable: ten percent of the boats are doing well under the new system, but over half the fleet never left the dock for lack of adequate allocations.
Massachusetts Governor Patrick petitioned Commerce Secretary Locke for emergency relief. The governor provided Locke with a study by the Massachusetts Marine Fisheries Institute (MFI) showing that allocations could be raised by at least 30% without violating the governing Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA). Locke turned him down.