NMFS Northeast Region
Gloucester, Mass. -- On April 1, NOAA Fisheries made its required filings in federal district court in the ongoing remedy phase of a lawsuit concerning the management of northeastern groundfish. (See "April 1 Filing," below.)
The agency reiterated its position that long-term solutions to the problems of overfishing and bycatch are best reached through an immediate action to protect groundfish gains, followed by a major amendment to the fishery management plan developed through the established fishery management council process.
Responding to a court order of March 18, the agency also provided a range of total allowable catch (TAC) estimates for each species in the plan, and measures to bring the fishery management plan into strict compliance with its Amendment 9 by May 1.
The agency supported use of TACs derived using the most scientifically valid estimates for stock rebuilding levels, harvest rates, and time frames in any remedy applied in the case. The filing illustrates that if obsolete or inappropriate information about stock levels and productivity is used to derive TACs (as in Amendment 9) oddities result; such as a TAC of zero for witch flounder, where the population is presently near its rebuilding target, and fishing rates are near the sustainable level. (See "Declaration of Steven Murawski," below.)
For measures, the agency presented actions that may bring the plan into strict compliance with Amendment 9, but also indicated that these actions are not the most advisable way to rebuild stocks. (See "Declaration of Patricia Kurkul," below.)
The agency presents new scientific information that generally supports using rebuilding and long-term harvest rates similar to the natural mortality rates. The biological information underlying Amendment 9, although outdated, has been used to show improvements in many of these stocks. The new analyses confirm these improvements. They also demonstrate that some stocks can get much larger than originally thought and, if rebuilding harvest rates are achieved, are likely to get there in most cases by 2009.
Under the present briefing schedule, the plaintiffs and various intervenors in the suit have until April 12 to reply to this filing. The judge may accept this or other remedies, order a remedy of her own, and/or consider remedies that may be devised through a mediated settlement. Mediation among the parties is set for April 5 to 9.