In a sensible attempt at compromise with beleaguered fishermen, the New England Fisheries Management Council and the fisheries division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently proposed to rreopen selected areas of New England waters that have been closed to the groundfish industry since the mid-1990s. The plan would take effect later this year. It is worth a try.
The industry is reeling from deep cuts to cod and yellowtail flounder quotas, and fishing towns have been pleading for permission to do whatever fishing is possible. To remedy that distress without hurting the region's fisheries, the agencies say that, by late summer or in the fall, they may allow fishing of haddock, monkfish, skate, and certain other fish stocks that don't appear to be in danger. Boats would have to be equipped with gear that selectively targets certain species. Some broad regions, such as the western Gulf of Maine, will remain off limits to protect cod spawning areas, but the ability to catch some species in other areas would provide relief to fishermen.
The possible openings were criticized by the Conservation Law Foundation, which says not enough research has been done to justify the loosening of some restrictions. For their part, many fishermen are also complaining because the openings would come with a major string attached: Boats would be required to bring along a NOAA-approved observer, at a cost of $500 to $600 a day, to monitor compliance with the rules. Because the proposal pleases neither environmentalists nor many fishermen, its fate is unclear. Yet all too often, each of those sides seems to be talking past the other, and both should acknowledge the importance of NOAA's good-faith gesture. It's an effort by regulators caught in the middle to show they are listening to the pleas of fishermen while also searching for fresh, nuanced ways to manage the bounty of the sea.