In late June, NOAA Fisheries shut down the commercial fishery for dolphin.
Big deal, you say. It's just commercial fishermen, you think.
It is a big deal — and you ought to be paying attention, because the reason for the closure points to everything that's wrong with our nation's fishery management system, and why the we need the changes spelled out in the 2014 bill to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act.
The commercial fishery for dolphin — mahi-mahi — in the Atlantic was closed June 30 because commercial landings were projected to reach the annual catch limit of 1,157,001 pounds.
That means that until at least January, you will not see mahi on many restaurant menus, particularly on the East Coast.
It is the first time in the history of the management of the fishery that NOAA — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — has shut down the dolphin fishery, according to Don Hammond, a fisheries biologist who has been studying mahi for several years.
Why the catch limit has been reached is anyone's guess — the key word being guess. Because, as recreational fishermen are well aware, the "best available science" that has been rammed down our throats for more than a decade is nonsense. Or non-science, if you will.
Dolphinfish are a perfect example.
NOAA's information page on mahi admits fisheries scientists have not conducted a formal stock assessment. "Scientists conducted an exploratory assessment of mahi mahi in 2000 and determined the stock was not overfished."
Yet NOAA has set quotas and bag limits on fishermen.
Based on what? Apparently, nothing more than a guess.
"While mahimahi is abundant and can support a high rate of harvest, managers have adopted a precautionary approach to managing these fisheries," NOAA Fisheries says.
NGOs — Pew, the Marine Fish Conservation Network, Oceana — would have you believe that this is what's known as using the "best available science."
Hogwash. It's restricting simply on the basis of "we think we should."
I am not against regulating fisheries. There are times where putting rules in place makes sense. But they need to be based in real science. NOAA was supposed to start addressing the scientific deficiencies in its fisheries management years ago. It has done nothing.
Why? Because the goal that no one wants to admit has been to turn our oceans into national parks.
Jane Lubchenko, the former head of NOAA and under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, said in a June interview in The Atlantic magazine that she would like to see the U.S. take the same approach to oceans as it did when it created the National Park System years nearly 100 years ago.
She and other preservationists would like to see a wider expanse of marine protected areas, and ones that fully shut down "extractive activities such as fishing," as The Atlantic article phrased it.
The same preservationists and NGOs, of course, believe we should be catching fish and throwing them back, for the most part. They don't want to see common sense applied to any fishery, or real scientific research, which is why we still aren't seeing true, accurate pictures of fishing effort.
Lip service is cheaper than really doing the work to manage from a truly scientific standpoint.
And Congress is doing us no favors. Though the House passed the Magnuson reauthorization — the ‘‘Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act — in early June, it has been gathering dust in the Senate. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which has its own version of the reauthorization, has not moved anything forward since the House action.
With Congress becoming mired in the 2016 election cycle already, the chances of getting this bill passed soon and without too much haggling are less and less likely.
It's time for Congress to act. To stop the gamesmanship and pass a bill that gives fishermen a fighting chance. It's time to hold NOAA accountable for doing its job properly.
The non-science needs to stop.
Karen Wall Subscribe