NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

February 5, 2014

Our view: NOAA fishing report just shows tip of economic iceberg

Yes, the numbers are grim.

The latest NOAA annual report on the Northeast groundfishery shows that landings were down by 24.9 percent across the region, while landings and values both hit four-year lows in Gloucester, and overall values fell by nearly 25 percent from the previous year.

But as much as those statistics document the plunge of the Northeast groundfisheries into the “economic disaster” the Department of Commerce had already recognized, it’s important to remember that this report covers only the 2012 fishing year — before NOAA put new clamps on the industry with cuts in catch limits of up to 78 percent.

That means these statistics — clearly driven more by NOAA’s catch share management system than the hard catch limits themselves — spotlight only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to documenting the current fishing crisis. That’s a scary premise when one considers looking ahead to this same state-of-the-fishery report for the current 2013 fishing year, which began under the new restrictions last May 1 and continues through this April 30.

All of this points to two remedies:

One is the need to accelerate delivery of the $75 million in newly approved federal aid into the hands of the fishermen and related businesses. The other is a need to refocus on reforming the Magnuson-Stevens Act to ensure that the NOAA policies and lack of accountability for communities’ economic impact is not repeated.

Otherwise, we will only see a repeat of these findings in the future — and that should be unacceptable to all.

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