New conservation measures urged for U.S. fisheries

Friday, April 7, 2000
By Christopher Noble

New conservation measures are needed to prevent more damage to the battered U.S. fishing industry and ensure that it enjoys a sustainable future, environmentalists and fisheries experts said Thursday.

While there is scientific evidence that a rebound in overfished species is underway, it is not happening fast enough, the experts said, and advocates of sustainable fishing practices want the federal law governing U.S. fisheries strengthened at its reauthorization, set for this year.

The law's reauthorization is a thorny issue and pits fishermen who see their livelihood threatened by quota cutbacks and fishing area closures against scientists, environmentalists and reform-minded fishermen who say that continuing current fishing practices will destroy U.S. fishing.

Lee Crockett, executive director of the Marine Fish Conservation Network, said resistance from some fishermen will make it hard to get stronger conservation measures included in the bill.

"We have our work cut out for us," Crockett said in a conference call. "No one said rebuilding these stocks was going to be painless and the effort has inflicted some economic pain on the fishing community."

Crockett and several of his colleagues hosted the call ahead of a hearing in Boston Monday at which the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Oceans and Fisheries will hear testimony on reauthorization of the Fisheries Conservation and Management Act.

The U.S. fishing industry is in peril on both coasts, and the Senate subcommittee has held a series of hearings across the country on the issue. The conference call Thursday was devoted mostly to New England-specific problems ahead of the committee's hearing in Boston.

The Conservation Network, made up of 92 nongovernmental organizations, is advocating tougher protection of marine environments, cuts in the unintended catch of nontarget fish, the placement of observers on fishing vessels and more money to do research on fisheries.

The group also wants a broader, ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management in place of the current system that targets individual fish species.

Dr. Anthony Chatwin, of the Conservation Law Foundation, said its as if fishermen were getting tangled in their own nets by resisting conservation efforts. "The longer you allow overfishing the longer you have to wait to rebuild the stock," Chatwin said.

He said a Foundation study found that fishermen were depriving themselves of about $230 million a year in lost catch by overfishing already depleted species.

For example, he said, the maximum sustainable yield for Georges Bank cod was 35,000 metric tons but because of overfishing, the allowable catch by New England fishermen last year was only 5,354 tons and was down to 4,145 tons in 2000.

The figures are similar for other commercially fished species including haddock and flounder, Chatwin said. In all, the Marine Fish Conservation Network says, 64 percent of New England's managed fish species are overfished.

"It is important to take strong conservation steps early in the rebuilding process. Going down that path is a success and not going down that path results in hundreds of millions of dollars or lost revenues for fishermen," Chatwin said.

Paul Parker, a commercial fisherman in Chatham, Mass., on Cape Cod, said the full economic loss was probably much bigger if related industries such as net making, hook baiting and others were taken into account.

Parker, who described himself as opposed to drastic steps taken in 1994 to close some prime fishing areas, said that looking back, he realized his resistance was misguided.

"What we're finding is that if we don't take conservation measures up front we won't have fishing in the future," he said.

Copyright 2000, Reuters
All Rights Reserved