A fishy report: New rules are bringing back the catch, analyst finds

The year was 2006. The place was a Manhattan meeting room.

About 150 angry men, tan and burly, dressed in khaki and flannel, sat there with frowns on their faces, their arms folded, occasionally booing the officials who were deliberating in the front of the room.

They were talking flounder. Summer flounder, also known as fluke.

Years before, the stock had declined so much that it came under federal management.

Now, it was rebuilding. But not fast enough. So officials wanted to cut the harvest even more, which is what they did that winter day.

Good work, today's analysts might say.

A report just released from the Natural Resources Defense Council finds that protections added to federal fisheries law in 1996 have, for the most part, worked.

Especially in the Mid-Atlantic, where six stocks that were once considered over-fished have now been declared "rebuilt" or "meeting building targets."

That would include the summer flounder, which was designated rebuilt just last year, although numbers have recently declined a bit.

It also includes black sea bass, bluefish, golden tile fish, scup and spiny dogfish.

The point of the report is that fishing restrictions work. They may cause hardship for some years, but the end result is worth the pain.

“Healthier fish populations mean healthier ecosystems, and a healthier fishing economy,” said NRDC senior attorney Brad Sewell in a press release about the report.  “When depleted fish stocks are allowed to recover, we see higher and more stable commercial fish landings over time, create more opportunities for sport fishing, and ensure the fresh, local seafood we love will be on our plates for years to come. Fortunately, we have learned how to help bring back struggling fish populations back from the brink, and we know how to build on that success in the future.”

The report found that gross commercial revenues for the 27 fish stocks that were rebuilt nationwide amounted to $585 million a year.

Revenues from recreational fishing increased, too, the authors said. They found that in the Mid-Atlantic alone, the National Marine Fisheries Services estimates that angler trips increased dramatically in the 1990s to the 2000s, resulting in $1.3 billion in economic activity and 18,660 jobs.

And, whaddaya know: Today, roughly an hour after the report is released, the House Natural Resources Committee will hold the first of several hearings on the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act -- the nation's federal fisheries law.

Those on the witness list include:

  • Bob Jones, Executive Director, Southeastern Fisheries Association
  •  Dr. Robert Shipp, Chair and Professor, Department of Marine Sciences - University of South Alabama
  •  Robert Dooley, President, United Catcher Boats
  •  John Pappalardo, Chief Executive Officer, Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association
  •  Captain Keith Logan, Charterboat Captain, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
  •  Bob Gill, Co-owner, Shrimp Landing, Florida
  •  Joseph Plesha, Chief Legal Officer, Trident Seafoods Corporation
  •  Sam Rauch, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, Department of Commerce

 That day in 2006, the fishermen gimly left the meeting after officials enacted a 28 percent cut to the fluke catch.

"This is the one fish we cannot live without," said a charter boat captain.

But it turned out he would have to, in the short term.

I'll be seeking comment on the report today from fisheries officials and fisheries interests, so check back later to see what they say.