No Fish, No Fishermen: Wise Ocean Conservation a Necessary Public Good

By PETER BAKER

As a regular reader of ecoRI News — and an occasional contributor of opinion pieces — I am grateful for the service the publication provides citizens of the Ocean State and southern New England with much-needed coverage of issues affecting the condition of our oceans.

However, the Jan. 18 piece Three Sides to Every Fish Story lacked important context.

Our coastal waters and marine wildlife are public resources — and sensible, science-based measures to protect ocean health and ensure sustainable fishing enjoy broad public support.

Many members of New England’s fishing industry likewise support ocean protections. They work hard to limit wasteful catch of non-target species (bycatch), safeguard fish habitat, and ensure that enough prey species are left in the water to keep the ocean food web intact. The few fishing industry voices quoted in the piece don’t accurately reflect the diversity of points of view in the fishing industry and in fishing communities.

Further, the piece may have left readers with the incorrect perception that fishermen have little or no voice in the management of fisheries. In fact, the regional fishery management council, which sets catch limits and other rules for activities in federal waters — 3-200 miles offshore — includes many fishermen, from small, day-boat operators to the owners of industrial-scale fleets.

For example, Rhode Island’s representatives on the fishery management council include one person who owns charter boats for recreational fishing and another who represents a seafood processing company. In nearly 40 years, Rhode Island has never had an employee of a conservation group represent the state on the council.

No matter the make-up, this important decision-making body has a dismal record when it comes to controlling overfishing. The disastrous collapse of New England’s cod fishery stands as a prime example of the consequences of shortsighted management by the council.

The bottom line is that our fishing communities depend on healthy oceans: no fish, no fishermen. Wise conservation of our oceans is necessary for the greatest public good.

Peter Baker is the director of Northeast U.S. oceans for The Pew Charitable Trusts.