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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Fed Advisor Says Restrictions Don't Go Far Enough

Air Date: Week of

Host Steve Curwood talks to Vaughn Anthony, chief science advisor to the Northeast region of the National Marine Fisheries Service. Despite the outcry by local fishermen over the new harvest restrictions, Anthony thinks the rules may be “too little too late” to save haddock and cod stocks.


CURWOOD: The Commerce Department's National Marine Fishery Service is responsible for monitoring and controlling fish stocks off US coasts. Vaughn Anthony is the Service's Chief Science Advisor for the Northeast region. He told us from his office in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, that there isn't much mystery about how the New England fishing stocks got into such terrible shape.

ANTHONY: It's very simple. The fishermen are removing about 60% of the groundfish annually from the ocean, and they should only remove 25 to 30% of the animals every year. They're catching too many fish on an annual basis.

CURWOOD: Are there other reasons, aside from over-fishing? What about temperature changes in the ocean, or pollution, or changes in the seal population?

ANTHONY: We've been pretty lucky with that so far. We have pollution problems, but most of them are close to shore. George's Bank is a long ways from shore; most of these populations are not hard against the shore. They're not very much affected by a variety of pollution problems. The temperature has changed over time, and it has had effects on some stocks, particularly shrimp and yellow-tailed flounder. But not so much cod and haddock and most of the stocks.

CURWOOD: Do you think that the management plan for groundfish is enough to restore the groundfishing stocks here in New England?

ANTHONY: Well, I think it would have been, certainly ten years ago. It's a question now whether it is for haddock. And even for cod. The haddock stock from the 30s and the 40s and the 50s averaged out about 150,000 tons of spawners out there and we've got less than 10 now. There are so few fish out there that it's not, there's not really a fishery left at all.

CURWOOD: But the government plan allows for the continued fishing of some haddock.

ANTHONY: Well, we can't help but take some haddock if you want to catch cod and other species. This is what's caused the recent problems, and the National Marine Fisheries Service has pushed hard to keep the catch of haddock as close to zero as possible.

CURWOOD: So haddock are headed for extinction. What about the cod?

ANTHONY: Well, cod are heading downwards very rapidly as well. And if we don't turn things around the next two to three years, we may see their demise as well. We've got our fingers crossed that we may get what we call a good year class produced this spring by the spawning population. We haven't seen a good year class come along now for three, four or five years. The yellow-tailed flounder is the other species of the big three here in New England, and it's, it's very bad as well.

CURWOOD: We've just heard Jennifer Ludden's report now on the details of the plan: the restriction on days, you can't have nets between boats any more. Do you think this plan will work?

ANTHONY: The Council for the first time is trying to address the problem in a direct way. In previous years, they've addressed the problem by looking at indirect measures, such as mesh sizes, sizes of fish caught, closed areas and so forth. Today, now, for the first time, the Council is looking at controlling directly fishing effort on the stock. My problem is, it's to little too late. The plan is a very gradual plan. It reduces fishing effort or attempts to by 10% a year over a 6-year period. And it's going to take 5 or 6 years to get to the point where the fishery is not over-fishing the resource any more.

CURWOOD: A lot of fishermen are now catching skates and dogfish. Is this a good idea, do you think?

ANTHONY: Oh, it certainly is. These stocks have been under-utilized for a long time. And there are other stocks that are under-utilized, too. We need to utilize everything we can find out there now to keep the fishermen employed as long as we can, until these stocks of groundfish recover.

CURWOOD: By the way, how does dogfish taste?

ANTHONY: It's an excellent product. It's a very white, flaky fish. Of course, it depends strongly on how it's handled, but it's one of the main fish and chips species in London.

CURWOOD: Thank you. Vaughn Anthony is the Chief Science Advisor for the Northeast region of the National Marine Fisheries Service. Thanks for joining us.

ANTHONY: You're welcome.



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