NOAA Fisheries Management -- Masters of Mendacity

The 2011 Annual Catch Limits (ACLs) for the New England fisheries go into effect on 1 May 2011.  They are essentially unchanged from the extremely low ACLs that virtually crippled the fleet in 2010.

NOAA spins things quite differently.  They put out a statement on 18 April titled "New England fishing season to open with higher catch limits."  The catch limits for 12 fish stocks are being increased.  They made no mention of decreases. 

In fact, some catch limits that are being decreased and the decreases are significant.  The catch limits for haddock, a major contributor to fishing revenues, are decreasing 25%.  The catch limits that are being increased are increasing marginally.  The total of the Annual Catch Limits for the New England fisheries will actually be about 10% less in 2011 than it was in 2010. 

On 20 April the Gloucester Daily Times revealed the subterfuge in an article and a blistering editorial.  The original NOAA statement received wide release, driven by NOAA and its environmentalist allies.  The subsequent "rest of the story" got play within the industry, but not by the major outlets that covered the original.

On 21 April, Patricia Kurkul, NOAA Fisheries Northeast Regional Administrator, responded to the Gloucester Times editorial with a piece that appeared on Bob Vanasse's website.  Ms. Kurkul implies that "publicizing the increases in limits for twelve smaller stocks rather than the decreases in three relatively large ones" was deliberate.  She claims that "[t]he catch limits, although lower than in 2010, are not expected to be much of a barrier to higher catch in 2011."

Ms. Kurkul seldom appears at public outreach events and seldom publishes outside of the agency.  A good plan.  How does that old cliché go?  You know the one, it ends in "remove all doubt."

The multi-species nature of the New England fisheries does result in low population species, the so-called choke species, restricting the landings of the more plentiful stocks.  The choke species problem is one of the issues with catch shares in New England.  It was stupid for NOAA to first launch their catch shares debacle in the complex New England environment.  But don't for a minute believe, as Ms. Kurkul would have you, that the 12 stock increases came about because of an altruistic NOAA's desire to help fishermen.  The increases were just the serendipitous consequences of the rather inappropriately termed best available science. 

And the new ACLs are still painfully low.

Mike Johnson is a concerned citizen, a small government conservative, and a live-free-or-die resident of New Hampshire.  E-mail