Here is a letter I wrote on October 28 to NMFS HMS Chief Margo Schulze-Haugen on an in-season quota transfer to the General category to keep the fishery open for the balance of the year:
Dear Interested Parties:
The New England Fishery Management Council has two vacancies on its Groundfish Advisory Panel. If you are interested in serving or have questions, please take a look at the details on the notice and, if appropriate, fill out the application form.
I can’t imagine an avalanche of applicants!
In the Gloucester Time article linked below, Governor Baker delivers a strong message to NOAA and the Obama Administration about the absurdity of trying to make fishermen pay for Observers and I would add “…in a fishery declared a formal “fishery disaster”!! Just how does an attempt to put the final nail in a coffin of remaining fishing industry folks meet the mandate of providing federal help in the event of a “fishery disaster”??
We have to keep in mind, however, that the Republican Gov. Baker may not have the ultimate influence with the Obama Administration packed, from the White House to the lowest levels of bureaucracy after 7 years of appointments and hiring, with radicals from the ENGO’s. Fortunately, some of our Democratic representatives have also weighed in and those that haven’t should be targeted for intensive action.
If NOAA fails to heed the widespread political support for the feds paying for Observers, there should also be the possibility that the states could find a way to subsidize the Observer costs to fishing vessels registered in the Northeast states.
Last night ABTA President Ralph Pratt, Finance Director Steve Getto, Board Member Tom DePersia and I attended a fund raiser for Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker in Marshfield sponsored by representatives of the South Shore Commercial Fishing, Charter Fishing, Aquaculture and Marine Trades. Ed Barrett served as Chair of the event and Ralph was on the Invitation Committee along with John Haviland, Mike Pierdinock and Charlie Wade. You will likely recall that when running for Governor Charlie Baker mentioned in detail (and tearfully) the economic disaster plaguing the industry and the terrible family and community impacts.
In his brief remarks it became clear that his commitment to the industry is sincere and we can expect a “friend” in his Administration. He expressed great disappointment and anger that the Commonwealth has not intervened sooner with greater resources and support for the fishing industry. He deplored the lack of data on the stocks, confusion over assessments, lack of transparency and the draconian unjustified NOAA regulations crippling the industry at every opportunity.
After his remarks, Ralph and I made a point to get the Governor’s ear for a few brief moments to explain the bluefin fishery and how no other state benefits more from our increasing quota than Massachusetts. We also explained how important the choice of a new leader for the Division of Marine Fisheries will be and we expressed in detail the in-house competence ready and willing to take up the current challenges. We stressed the importance of “institutional knowledge” and direct participation in the too numerous crisis that the industry and State have faced over fishery issues over the last 20 years and more.
We also explained that what was lacking most from the State in the past was a deep resolve to get the Attorney General more regularly involved in the regulatory process to insure changing and increasing regulations are justified by the limited data and understanding. This is especially true with much less data coming from fishermen as a result of being kept from fishing even clearly healthy resources. And now looming large is another killer cost of fishermen paying for Observers.
Finally, we made contact with the Governor’s staff attending the meeting to insure that we have direct access to his office and he personally knows of our critical needs. One of the first matters we want to engage at high levels within his administration is Commonwealth help to re-develop domestic markets for bluefin and other regional species seriously damaged by non-stop erroneous or exaggerated media coverage and environmental groups telling the public to stop eating locally produced fish. We explained to the Governor that some of the groundfish fishermen being put out of that business could be helped by more effort on bluefin especially with the recent 250 mt quota increase ABTA fought for and finally got this year. This could be even more beneficial if a bluefin marketing campaign helped raise domestic demand to provide a return to better prices at the higher volume of landings we can expect coming in the future.
Congratulations to Ed Barrett and all the fishermen of the South Shore who made this terrific opportunity happen and for the delicious buffet of lobster rolls, shrimp, oysters, chowder and more. It was clear that the Governor was very pleased with the event and the heavy turnout.
It took a long time — a really, really long time – as in about 40 years. But finally western Atlantic bluefin tuna can no longer be used as the “poster child” of overfishing. The seemingly infinite number of sensational headlines to the effect that “Million Dollar Bluefin Tuna are Being Fished to Extinction by Greedy Fishermen” has proven to be an extremely profitable byline for radical environmental organizations (ENGOs). These ENGOs and journalists looking for an easy story have thrived on sensationalized Atlantic bluefin status misinformation and outright lies while their contributors and readers have multiplied for decades.
The lies have reached millions of readers all over the world over the years. Some scientists have been complicit in these bogus campaigns and become famous and even wealthy over the western bluefin controversies. Since 1970, the fishery has endured highly publicized international political fights including two battles over Endangered Species listing proposals, three attempts at endangered species status under CITES (Convention on Trade in Endangered Species) and one Canadian quasi-government (COSEWIC) effort to list bluefin as going extinct.
These “doomsday” myths provided the fodder for what became an annual fight in the U.S. and at ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas) about whether a “moratorium on bluefin fishing” or an additional “50% reduction in western quota” should be imposed. Beginning in 1991 a similar faint noise began to emerge on the lack of significant management on the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean fisheries. By 1996 the volume of protests on the unrestricted Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean fisheries were dramatically accelerated by radical environmental groups and within 5 years the focus changed to include dire warnings of an “Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Fisheries Collapse”.
The Greenpeace “Rainbow Warrior” had even been dispatched to the Mediterranean Sea to protest at ICCAT waterfront meetings. In San Sebastian, Spanish drift gillnets (with rotting skipjack and other tunas in the webbing) were deployed around the hotel where the ICCAT meeting was held. In Paris, small speedboats of the World Wildlife Fund were deployed to stop an ICCAT sponsored dinner vessel from leaving the dock. No longer were ICCAT meetings considered safe as any ENGO action that would attract the media could be expected at any time. More seats and tables had to be squeezed in to ICCAT meetings to accommodate increasing numbers of “green” international observers.
After the 2010 CITES threat, a new clause was added to the ICCAT biannual East and West Atlantic bluefin fishery management agreements to include the proviso that “If the SCRS stock assessment detects a serious threat of fishery collapse….” ICCAT would suspend fishing in the East and West Atlantic bluefin fisheries. This is the unstated working assumption for all marine fisheries under management – but Atlantic bluefin neededthis dire statement for effect!
This same year, in Paris, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenko demanded and got a token additional 50 mt quota cut just for the West Atlantic bluefin fishery as a demonstration of her commitment to radical ENGOs and, to industry, her raw power within the Obama Administration. This insult to compliant, mostly artisanal, small-scale fishing nations in the west Atlantic may well be viewed by historians as the low point of 40 years of political interference and forestalling any attempt to improve scientific understanding of the stock.
But now, with the latest bluefin stock assessment in October of 2014, by broad consensus of the more than 50 member countries, ICCAT took decisive action to increase the eastern and western Atlantic bluefin tuna quotas based upon strong scientific evidence of major progress to levels of sustainable yields in the eastern fishery and a much more confident picture of the longstanding sustainable status in the west. The mathematical evidence that western Atlantic bluefin are above maximum sustainable yield also got a significant boost at recent ICCAT science meetings.
The 2014 SCRS stock assessment by ICCAT should slow down (for now) the bluefin “extinction” global ENGO and media circus. But we will always be at risk of drastic changes in our quota as long as the Atlantic bluefin stocks are not adequately understood on such fundamental biological issues as age-at-sexual-maturity occurs, all spawning grounds and productivity are known, mixing and the factors that influence and change mixing on feeding/fishing grounds are understood and so much more yet to be investigated and learned.
Much more importantly, in recent months NOAA has taken several significant and positive actions that strongly suggest that NOAA leadership has adopted a new confidence in its fishery management successes since the Magnuson Act has been amended to require an end to overfishing and overfished stocks. On April 15, a NOAA Press Release included western Atlantic bluefin tuna as one of several stocks NOAA was removing from its congressionally mandated “overfishing list”. NOAA also announced that the 469 federally managed stocks on the list had declined to the lowest level since reporting started in 1997!
On March 6, 2015 NOAA/NMFS Eileen Sobeck (Assistant Administrator for Fisheries) responded to an ABTA request for assistance to educate the New York City Council, which was supporting an absurd petition promoted by the Center for Biological Diversity to ban the sale of “endangered” western Atlantic bluefin tuna in the City of New York. In her response, NMFS AA Sobeck informed the City Council that “Atlantic bluefin tuna is neither endangered nor threatened. The latest stock assessment for Atlantic bluefin tuna (2014) showed a positive outlook for the fishery, showing that overfishing is no longer occurring, that the stock continued to increase, and that a moderate increase in catches would allow the stock to continue to grow” under the scheduled 14% increase in quota.
In late April 2015, NOAA also substantially revised its entry for Atlantic bluefin tuna in the highly read and respected “Fishwatch” website in order to eliminate negatively biased language and outdated bluefin stock status errors that were clearly leading the public including seafood buyers and restaurants to avoid purchases of western Atlantic bluefin tuna. This important action fulfilled a commitment to ABTA to do so and was accomplished in likely record time for the Agency.
Last Friday, July 31, 2015, NMFS made an in-season allocation to the Harpoon Category that was facing a potential closure due to an early season abundance of very big 600 to 900 lb. bluefin in coastal waters. The quota transfer of 40 mt from the Reserve was remarkable given the existing 2015 Harpoon Category quota was only 38.6 after this category received its share of the 2014 ICCAT western Atlantic increase of 250 mt to 2,000 mt. A few days earlier, NMFS also made a smaller transfer from Reserve to the Pelagic Longline (PLL) Category of 35 mt to insure this category has adequate quota. But the higher allocation to the Harpoon Category can be seen as NMFS’ preference for the sustainable handgear categories (General and Harpoon) and also, possibly, as an attempt to mitigate the economic impact of earlier than usual purse seine landings this year with their early season start date under Amendment 7.
What is clear is that NMFS is changing its attitude about allocations from the Reserve Category. Before this year, NMFS reluctantly made minimal allocations from Reserve fearing the U.S. might exceed its annual quota, particularly given that NOAA has had little control over PLL bluefin discards. The result has been that, in past seasons, the U.S. has been underachieving or leaving sometimes more than 100 mt of quota in the water especially since the maximum rollover from one year to the next of uncaught quota was lowered (against the strong advice from ABTA) from 50% to 10%.
This is the first year of implementation of new regulations under Amendment 7. The fact that our quota appears relatively stable and further increases are possible up to the MSY level of 3,060 mt will allow ABTA to focus our resources on necessary changes to Amendment 7 to deal with unanticipated or ignored public comments on expected impacts of the new rules.
I will also be urging the ABTA Board to consider bluefin market research and activities as one of the means of dealing with increased supply. It will likely take many years and considerable resources to undo the damage of 40 years of unrelenting bad press, hostile ENGO campaigns and Administrations and most importantly data poor science.