fisheries

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley today announced a federal lawsuit against NOAA.
Sarah Birnbaum / WGBH

Two new developments today in New England groundfishermen's fight for their livelihoods:

  • Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley announced this afternoon that her office has filed a federal lawsuit against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the agency that oversees commercial fishing. According to a press release from the Attorney General's office, the lawsuit alleges that federal regulators "used flawed science to over-restrict the Massachusetts fishing industry" and "ignored the devastating economic impact" of severe cuts in cod catch quotas aimed at ending overfishing.

Fish and fishermen usually take top billing when it comes to the conversation about New England's fisheries. Now it's your turn in the limelight.

Fishing is far more than a revenue stream. It's a hobby; it's New England's cultural heritage; it's a source of healthy, local food. As we begin our own conversation about the future of New England's fisheries, we'd like to know what that phrase means to you. Whether you're a seafood lover, an occasional fisherman, or Deadliest Catch watcher, please take a moment to share your outlook on fishing.

Heather Goldstone / WCAI

This summer, we’re taking an in-depth look at the current state and future prospects of New England’s fisheries. Here’s why, and what you can do to help.

The name of this New Bedford fishing boat expresses what many fishermen love about their jobs, and what many feel they've lost.
Heather Goldstone / WCAI

Today marks the opening of the 2013 groundfish season. It's a year that could go down in history as the end of New England's oldest fishery - cod.

The groundfish industry is no stranger to cutbacks and hard times. The fleet has been shrinking for over a decade. But cod fishermen are facing drastic reductions in catch limits this season - a 77% reduction in Gulf of Maine quotas, and greater than 50% reduction in Georges Bank allotments. And since cod is usually caught in conjunction with other groundfish, such as haddock or pollock, the restrictions on cod catches could curtail the entire groundfish season.

Overfishing - of cod, and many other species - began well before modern technology.
Peabody Essex Museum

As long as there have been fishermen, there has been overfishing. Breaking that cycle is the central challenge facing fishermen, fishery scientists and regulators, and anyone who likes to eat fish or have fishermen as neighbors.

Sophie-Marie Van Parijs of the Northeast Fishery Science Center listens in on underwater sounds.
Courtesy of NOAA

Here's your science factoid of the day: male Atlantic cod grunt during spawning season. It may sound like useless trivia, but that behavior could help fishery managers better protect cod stocks.

Underwater microphones - hydrophones - installed along the shipping channels leading into Boston already listen for right whales and automatically alert nearby vessels in real time. In fact, you can even get that information on your iPhone.

An aptly named fishing boat in New Bedford Harbor.
animaltourism.com / flickr

There’s nothing new about tension between New England’s fishermen and the scientists and regulators who oversee their industry. But the situation has reached fever pitch in the past two years, in large part due to a federally mandated deadline to end overfishing and the introduction of a new management scheme, known as catch shares, in which a total catch limit is set and the catch is divvied up among eligible fishermen.

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