WASHINGTON- Oceana filed a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for its failure to require adequate observer coverage for the New England groundfish fishery for cod, haddock and flounder. NMFS has a duty to set quotas to prevent overfishing and ensure that those quotas are not exceeded. That process depends upon data NMFS receives from trained and independent scientists, known as observers, who work onboard fishing vessels to monitor how many fish are caught, including fish thrown back overboard, called discards. This information is also used to estimate the amount of catch in the entire fishery. The law requires that enough fishing vessels have observers onboard to make the precise, accurate and timely catch estimates needed to guide fishery management decision-making. In the lawsuit, Oceana alleges the federal government set monitoring at extraordinary low levels, using an unlawful interpretation of the legal minimum requirement for observers.
“In order to restore New England’s groundfish populations to healthy levels, we need enough monitoring to enforce scientifically based catch limits,” said Gib Brogan, Northeast representative for Oceana. “Impartial observers on fishing vessels are crucial in getting accurate data on how many fish are being taken out of the ocean, which helps to make sure fishing stays within limits so populations can rebuild in the future.”
In 2010, the historic New England groundfish fishery transitioned to a new management program that divided the fishery into “sectors.” In order for the sector program to work properly, more observers are needed on fishing boats to ensure each sector stops fishing when the number of fish landed and discarded reaches its assigned quota, known as the Annual Catch Entitlement.
Oceana challenged some of the methods used to set these monitoring levels in 2010, and again in 2012, when it became clear that discards from the fishery would not be adequately monitored. According to the terms of a January settlement agreement with Oceana, the federal government was required to publish an analysis of the groundfish fishery’s monitoring needs for the upcoming fishing year, however Oceana’s lawsuit alleges that NMFS did not adequately consider what level of observer coverage was needed.
NMFS’ decision to set observer coverage at these low levels comes on the heels of sharp quota reductions for Atlantic cod and other stocks set by the New England Fisheries Management Council earlier this year to prevent overfishing of these extremely depleted and vulnerable fish populations.
“By filing this lawsuit, we hope to compel NMFS to take seriously its task of determining the level of observer coverage needed and to get those observers out on the water, instead of allowing overfishing to further harm New England’s fisheries,” said Oceana assistant general counsel Eric Bilsky. “Without observers reviewing fishing activity, the reduced quotas will be impossible to monitor and enforce, threatening the fishery’s overall future.”
Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. Oceana wins policy victories for the oceans using science-based campaigns. Since 2001, we have protected over 1.2 million square miles of ocean and innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and other sea creatures. More than 550,000 supporters have already joined Oceana. Global in scope, Oceana has offices in North, South and Central America and Europe. To learn more, please visit www.oceana.org.