By Peter Baker, Lee Crockett
As an editorial in the Boston Globe observed, things did not look good for the coming fishing season. Fishermen were “returning from three or four days’ hauling on Georges Bank with near-empty holds.” And while other regions of the country were successfully managing their fisheries “New England’s council has been unable to do so.”
The year was 1993.
Twenty years later, the sense of déjà vu is unshakeable. A new season brings a troubling scenario of depleted fish populations and deficient management. Fourteen of the region’s 20 groundfish—or bottom dwelling—species are currently overexploited. Cod stocks are at the lowest levels ever recorded. New England’s best captains could not find enough cod in the past year to meet more than a third of their allotted quota on Georges Bank. It is, officially, an economic disaster, as the U.S. Department of Commerce declared last fall.
In short, here we are, with our storied fishing grounds in even worse shape than they were two decades ago.
The tools to rein in overfishing and rebuild healthy populations have been there all along — in the form of science-based catch limits required by the nation’s top fishing law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act. For much of the country, the law has worked: Over the past 11 years, rebuilding plans have restored 32 previously severely depleted fisheries.
Yet New England stands apart as a place where treasured species are chronically subjected to overfishing. The waste from accidental catch is not adequately controlled, or even monitored. And important protections for marine habitat could soon be dismantled. More....