Have you noticed that your favorite fish has suddenly become very expensive? Fish, in many cases, is a better and healthier source of protein than red meat, but it also has a lot more health benefits that are hard to get from anything else. Changes to the fishing industry don’t just mean changes within the industry, but in your finances, health, and habits. Here’s the scoop on governmental regulation forced on the fishing industry by previous administrations and the damage it is causing.
To say New England fishermen and federal regulatory agencies don’t see eye-to-eye might be the understatement of the century. An impartial observer might go as far as to say that some federal rule-making organizations are determined to crush the New England fishing industry.
During the Obama Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) made what many are calling a gross regulatory overreach. In a move reflecting the mistrust between the groups, NOAA began requiring groundfishermen to carry “at-sea monitors.” Groundfisherman are those who bring haddock, cod and other bottom-feeding species to market.
NOAA had concerns that fishermen weren’t adhering to what many seamen call onerous and wasteful regulations that required throwing back already dead fish. The monitors started coming aboard in 2010 and were paid through federal funds. But that pool dried up and NOAA started billing fishermen $700 per day for each pair of eyes. Strangely, their job isn’t to prevent overfishing; it’s to force fishermen to throw certain species back, even though they’re already dead or dying.
The cost completely buried some commercial outfits that couldn’t earn enough per outing to continue and pay NOAA. A group in New Hampshire filed suit against what they deem is an unlawful tax. A judge ruled against them and that case is pending an appeal that was filed in December. Meanwhile, fishermen are required to post when they are going out 48 hours in advance, not knowing whether they’ll be shelling out $700-$1,400 to the feds until the moment they set sail. For many, a loss on appeal could signal the end of a New England way of life. And of course, the significant cost impact is passed down to consumers, who ultimately pay the price for seafood and all the industry entails.
Quota regulations were initially implemented to prevent overfishing and help declining species replenish their numbers. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked. Connecticut fishermen, for example, are throwing back hundreds of thousands of dead fish because of the misguided and out-of-date quota systems of the NOAA. In the state’s coastal waters, boats can only bring back a certain amount of a particular species. Any extra fish caught while filling the quota for another type must be thrown back. The obvious result is fishermen having to wastefully destroy fish stocks that could be brought to market.
Experts also point to the changing populations of certain fish as a reason to change quotas. They say that warming southern New England waters have pushed cold water flounder and lobster to the north. Black bass are quickly and abundantly replacing them in Southern New England. But area-based limits have not been adequately adjusted, leading to even more unnecessary waste. For example, a boat may haul in up to 300 pounds of fish an hour. But the fluke limit stands at 20 pounds. Until a crew hits that 20 pounds, other species go back, dead or alive. They call those losses “dead discard” or “bycatch” and in some cases up to 20,000 pounds of a species can be wasted per trip. The environmental non-profit organization, Oceana, reported that U.S. fishing boats could be throwing away as much as $1 billion in bycatch annually.
Based on NOAA’s own 2016 report that looked at previous years’ data, 689,130,985 pounds of dead discard was thrown overboard by commercial vessels in 2013. That number was up more than 80 million pounds from 2012, according to the agency’s national statistics. Oceana reported the cost of New England and Mid-Atlantic bycatch for 2014 at:
- $25 million discard from bottom trawl fisheries or 20 percent total value of these fisheries
- $8.5 million summer and yellowtail flounder discard or 30 percent of estimated species earnings
- $3 million in severely depleted Atlantic cod discard
Rather than address the grotesquely wasteful direction NOAA quotas have created, the organization recently doubled down on its hardline philosophy. Moving forward, flounder quotas have been reduced by 29 percent in 2017 and 16 percent for 2018, a move that will most certainly increase dead discard and negatively impact jobs and the overall industry.
In many ways, NOAA illustrates the inability of federal regulatory agencies to resolve issues in a sensible fashion. Its rule-making powers continue to defy reason, logic and sound environmental wisdom.