the latest NMFS survey sampling snafu
Note that, because newspapers allow (or don't) access to previously published articles in a variety of ways, the links below are to each paper's home page. From there you will have to manuever to the source article.
First, federal fisheries management in New England
appears ready to embark on a cultural upheaval in its fisheries and fishing
communities. The upheaval is not just about rebuilding, but involves a
drive for more production with less equipment. If you talk to a fisheries
scientist, you will be told that we need fewer boats if there are fewer
fish (so the fish can rebuild). And you will be told that we need fewer
boats when there are more fish (because catch rates will skyrocket). Bad
news, either way, for the current composition of fishermen and their communities.
And, in the mid to long-run, it's not going to matter if you are a New
Bedford scalloper or a Portland or Gloucester groundfisherman.
From a presentation by David Frulla presented at Fish Expo/Workboat Atlantic 2002
Teri Frady, a spokeswoman for the National Marine Fisheries Agency, said the agency has been using faulty gear in surveys taken since the winter of 2000. But she said government scientists don't yet know what the precise impact has been on fish surveys. She said the federal court has been notified of the problem and new surveys will be taken, but the court decision ordering the cutback of the fishing fleet still stands. Frady doubted the new surveys will show much difference from the trends of surveys taken since 1940. They have consistently shown that overfishing has cut back on the fish population, and although the stock has been rebuilding in recent years, some new efforts will be required to allow the fish to recover fully. "There's no question that the condition of the (fish) stock is such that everybody can't stay in business," Frady said. "There's too much capacity out there to catch fish."
The future of Gloucester, Mass., hanging in the balance
“When fishermen’s livelihoods depend on the quality
of survey data, we owe it to them to get the data collection right,” said
(Maine) Senator (Susan) Collins. “There is no room for second rate
science.... The type of data necessary to develop fisheries management
plans can be produced only after years of research that demonstrate long-term
stock trends,” said Senator Collins. “Theoretical modeling of past data
of questionable quality is simply not good enough to develop the regulations
of a plan that will affect the survival of our fishermen.”
Senator Susan Collins introduces legislation to freeze further restrictions on ground fishing pending further study
At the 12 foot setback the results would have to be considered catastrophic. The slacked back wing was at a right angle to the other wing creating an L shape as the net towed through the bottom. The twine on the slacked back wing was bowed in the half tunnel effect, and probably was now more of a gill net then a trawl net. Bottom contact was severely impacted on this wing and could be described as minimal . Major plowing was taking place to the rollers and the cookies on the stable, leading wing. The folds and distortion of twine on this wing increased even further. Only the dumbest [or unluckiest] fish in the ocean would be caught by a net this distorted.
Observations from the Albatross IV correctional
Prior to departure (on the NOAA survey "calibration" cruise), fishermen examined the net and observed:
The “cans” on the net displayed atypical flat spots from wear. This suggested that the cans were being trapped under the footrope, which would cause the net to work improperly. (This was later confirmed through observation when the net was actually deployed. The Albatross crew was unaware of this “snarl” but was alerted to the problem by the fishermen aboard.)
Fishermen who witnessed tests aboard the government research vessel Albatross IV last week say miscalibrated warp lines left its fishing net deployed ineffectively, bolstering the industry's argument that government groundfish surveys may have underestimated stocks over the last two years.
"It was no surprise for me in any way, shape or form, or any other fisherman out there," said Stephen Lee, a fishermen from Berwick, Maine, one of several fishing industry observers who took part in the special trawl observation cruise. "It definitely shows there is a problem."
Fishermen say tests show flawed process
The National Marine Fisheries Service conducted four days of experiments with net trawls in southern New England waters in response to complaints that they were hauling the nets unevenly while surveying the health of fish populations.
''There's plenty wrong. The net set was totally different from what it should have been. It was a disaster,'' said Stephen Lee, a fisherman from Berwick, Maine, who accompanied more than a dozen other observers and scientists on a four-day voyage that returned to port at 7 a.m. Friday.
Because the results of the tests are not scheduled to be publicized until a workshop next week, officials at the National Marine Fisheries Service were more guarded in their remarks.
Test said to show fish undercount
It could even be said the fishing industry could have and attempted to provide the "best available science." We must always remember this when we make a mistake in rigging our fishing gear, yet the only people affected are us; but when the agency in charge of collecting data makes the same mistake, it affects all aspects of the fishing industry.
Also, another thing we need to be aware of is that environmental groups such as Oceana, the Conservation Law Foundation and the American Oceans Campaign are using unreliable data to initiate lawsuits, making fisheries' managers submit to their agenda. In other words, these environment groups are using the fishing industry as a marketing tool to promote their own existence. They should be held accountable for their actions as well.
For too long, fishermen's expertise discarded by feds
But even at 2 feet, Odlin said, the video showed the nets were lifting off the ocean floor - a critical point because the research vessel is supposed to be measuring the amount and health of groundfish that swim near the bottom, such as cod and haddock.
"When you lose bottom contact, a lot of the species we try to catch dive underneath the net and you don't catch them,'' said Odlin, a trawler with 30 years of commercial groundfishing experience.
With a 12-foot mismatch, the video showed the net, which is supposed to be shaped like a "V" underwater crumpled to look like an "L," meaning half of it was closed. Fishermen aboard the Albatross said they could see the fish swimming underneath and escaping.
Fishermen: Test shows feds' data flawed
And he insisted that fishermen need to play a central role in gathering information about the state of groundfish stocks.
"We are fighting to make sure your knowledge and experience as harvesters is respected and valued," he said. "It's knowledge that should and has to be taken into consideration by our regulatory councils and by the legislative colleagues Barney and I work with."
(Massachusetts Congressman Barney) Frank, who represents the port of New Bedford, not only called for a delay in Amendment 13, but also suggested the problem with the Albatross threatened the concept of government regulation.
"If our rules are going to work, they have to be seen as fair," he said.
Frank described how members of Congress are often asked to arbitrate difficult issues based on complex studies and information.
"But the notion that a net needs to be equal on both sides ... it doesn't take a genius to figure out that's wrong," he said.
Frank called the fishing industry one of the most regulated work environments in the world, but added that fishermen accept restrictions as long as the rules are fair and rational.
'Hold off'; Frank says regulators should delay new rules
"This shows how critical it is to know what you're doing out there," said Jim Kendall of the Trawler Survival Fund, an industry-funded fishermen's association, representing fish draggers and scallopers. Kendall is also a New England Fishery Management Council member.
"When we make a mistake, it only affects us, but when something like the Albatross goes out and messes up, that affects the livelihood of everyone in the industry," Kendall said.
Fishermen await new net results
(Gloucester Mayor John)
Bell and other members of the Gloucester coalition were encouraged by a
letter sent by members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation to
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans this week, calling for a task force
to investigate the gear used and the data collected during the fishery
Official promises open door; Solons weigh in on fish survey flaw
The trawl cables used
to deploy the vessel's fishing net were improperly marked and the miscalibration
may have led to the net not being properly aligned while being towed in
Lawmakers lobby for fishermen, Cite improperly rigged gear as cause for concern
Every boat in the country
that is used to conduct fish counts for the National Marine Fisheries Service
will undergo a detailed equipment check due to a disclosure that a New
England-based boat had faulty equipment that may have resulted in undercounted
fish populations for the last two years, a top federal oceans' official
Fish survey boat checks expanded
The state's fishing czar
is calling for an independent task force to review federal research after
the feds this week admitted to a major snafu in the way they collect key
data that governs the entire New England fishing industry.
Fed Data Collection Flaw May Have Spawned Fish Story
"It doesn't surprise
me. It really doesn't," said Peter Inniss, a Portland fishing boat
captain. "The numbers are far from true. They always have been. They're
always a lot smaller than they should be."
Gear flaw could alter new rules for fishing
Bill Brown was not surprised by the mistake. But then again, he doesn’t
consider any government surveys reliable, and like many fishermen, has
long contended that flawed science doesn’t reflect the improving health
of fish stocks.
Fishing data may be inaccurate because of faulty studies
Fisherman Hank Lackner
knows firsthand about the problems with fisheries science.
Fishermen find vindication
"This is a tremendous
error," said Gloucester resident Vito Calomo who serves as the executive
director of the Massachusetts Fisheries Recovery Commission. "It's like
taking a door and closing it more than half way and trying to let a 300-pound
Vito Calomo walk through it."
Fish data flawed; Scientists admit use of improper gear
The mistake was initially
spotted by Cape Cod fisherman Matt Stommel, who saw the boat's cables being
calibrated on a wharf in February 2000. Instead of marking various lengths
on the two cables as they lay side by side, a contractor marked them separately
Fish counts in region questionedConservation Law Foundation fishery scientist Anthony Chatwin also agreed that increased participation of fishermen could result. But he said the mistakes should not be looked upon as an excuse to shelve efforts to restore fish stocks. He said that regardless of the stock assessment, fishermen were still catching far too many fish.
"CLF continues to have great confidence in New England's federal fishery scientists and knows that NMFS will act quickly to determine the impacts of their error and make adjustments as necessary," Chatwin stated in a press release yesterday.
He said he did not think that the error would have any impact on a timeline to have new, stricter regulations in place by next August.
Fishermen demand voice
"A little difference
and the net will tow at an angle. You'll catch some fish, but not as many,"
Bob Lane of Falmouth, who owns two New Bedford fish draggers. Lane's crews
check the warp lines every other trip to make sure they are still equal
in length and that the marks line up.
Flaws cited in fishing stock data collection
"I was actually shocked
but wasn't surprised," said Robert Lane, owner of the trawler Isabel
S and a board member of the Trawler Survival Fund, an industry group formed
to protect the interests of the groundfish industry.
Rigging foul-up could mean flawed fishing data"It's amazing that something as basic as checking the length of the trawl wires could be overlooked...but it's criminal that the condition of the trawl gear was ignored for nearly two years after the Science Center had been alerted to the problem by a concerned fisherman. If that fishermen had not persisted, this fiasco would never have been brought to light."
One can almost picture a crew of scientists in white lab coats fumbling with their fishing gear, coming up with bad catch and refusing to throw it back. Gloucester Mayor John Bell says fisheries regulators have inspired "a culture of mediocrity" -- this from a patient man, who has encouraged local fishermen to measure their invective and try to work with the system, rather than against it.
Holes found in surveyWhat a relief it must have been for hundreds of commercial fishermen in New Bedford and throughout New England this week when scientists at the National Marine Fisheries Service in Woods Hole announced that their data for the last two years was flawed.
Big time oops!
There's nothing as satisfying as learning that you aren't crazy after wondering whether you are.
Many of our region's fishermen must have thought they were going crazy as they pulled up increasing numbers of groundfish in the last two years, but were told by scientists that many groundfish species were not recovering from decades of overfishing.
NMFS has yet another reason for cooperationOne of the problems with management as it stands is that the results of our VPAs (virtual population analyses) are taken as flat-out gospel. Indeed, folks at the Conservation Law Foundation and all the other groups bent on making a living by bashing fishermen sling these figures around as if they were an absolute, positive fact. They are not. These "random" fish tows never reflect any biological knowledge, and the result is a number of fatal flaws.
Feds' fish census methods flawed