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January 15, 2003

Fishermenís Partnership Hails

NOAA Fisheries Decision to Extend Rebuilding Schedule

Partnership Graphs of Catch Projections Support Decision

The decision by NOAA Fisheries head William Hogarth to extend the rebuilding schedule for New England fish stocks is a major victory for fishing communities, offering hope that the industry as well as the stocks will be sustainable.

Numerous organizations joined the Massachusetts Fishermenís Partnership (MFP) campaign on this issue and all had a hand in advancing the agenda. Particular thanks must go to the congressional delegation for their support and hard work. Senators Kerry and Kennedy, Congressmen Frank, Markey, Tierney and Delahunt have all supported the common sense approach of granting more time because the goalposts had been moved.

On November 6, 2002, members of the New England Fishery Management Council under the leadership of Chairman Tom Hill responded to MFP and other industry comments by voting to create an option in Amendment 13 to the Multispecies FMP to re-set the clock and request the federal court to grant more time to create better management. The Councilís vote and Hogarthís decision to support extending the rebuilding schedule is based on a reading of the whole law and not just part of the law.

The wisdom of this decision is illustrated by graphs posted on the MFP website (http://www.fishermenspartnership.org).  The MFP graphs display catch rates or the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) as projected for certain important species according to the New England Fishery Management Councilís draft of Amendment 13. The draft relied on the Groundfish Assessment Review Meeting (GARM) report that advised most fishing effort be cut by 50% or more and kept low over the next seven years. The bizarre result would have been the sudden jump by as much as three to four fold in the catch rates between 2009 and 2010.

It makes better business sense to grow the fish stocks gradually so that the infrastructure and market can build to accommodate the anticipated volume. The New England Fishery Management Council estimates that up to 90% of fishing vessels would go out of business if the GARM reportís fishing rates required by the old rebuilding schedules were implemented. While NOAA Fisheries stock assessments continue to show rapid growth in stock abundance for most species even in the face of research vessel trawl warp errors, fisheries management should allow for the gradual increase in harvesting rates over a longer period of time until the stocks are fully rebuilt.

Clearly NOAA Fisheries Administrator William Hogarth has determined that the scientific understanding of the fish stocks supports coordinating a reasonable business strategy with a successful rebuilding strategy. The Magnuson-Stevens Act clearly mandates such linkage whenever it is possible without endangering rebuilding the fish stocks.

Given continuing dramatic recoveries in fish abundance, it makes perfect environmental sense to allow New Englandís locally owned fishing vessels to stay in business and be available for the future gains of rebuilding by extending the rebuilding deadline.

The MFP began its rebuilding flexibility campaign at the May 2000 New England Fishery Management Council meeting in Plymouth, MA and has been on the forefront of this issue ever since. As soon as NOAA fisheries began discussing the possibility of changing the biological targets, the Partnership began educating fishermen and the public about the impact of changing targets without changing the time to reach them.

The Partnership urges the New England Fishery Management Council carefully examine the new Total Allowable Catch (TAC) projections and to revise its proposed Amendment 13 management strategy accordingly.

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