Scallop travesty kills N.E. council credibility for setting stock limits

Tightening limits on a species so abundant some are dying of old age

Gloucester Times Editorial

It's one thing to tighten catch limits of fish stocks whose population has fallen to dangerously low levels. It is another thing entirely to tighten limits on a species that is so abundant that some of its population is dying of old age.

A regulatory council controlled not by reason and good science, but by the political influence and money of the environmental lobby.

Yet that's the absurd situation in which the New England fishery continues to find itself, thanks to a regulatory council that seems more and more controlled not by reason and good science, but by the political influence and money of the environmental lobby, which sends regular signals that it wants to drive more and more fishermen out of business.

As more and more officials look into the need to reform the federal Magnuson-Stevens Act, it's clear that the council itself should stripped of its power and legislated out of business. Simply put, it no longer has the credibility a federal regulatory body needs to be functional.

The New England Fishery Management Council is the federal body that sets policy, and therefore catch limits, for the New England fishery. And it voted 10-7 last November to reduce the allowable catch of scallops by 25 percent, to 47 million pounds - even though scallops are well known to be a healthy stock.

Indeed, government scientists say there are 300 million harvestable pounds of scallops, and that taking 65 million pounds would not affect the health of the overall population.

A recent study by a scientist at UMass Dartmouth found that the limit could cost the state's economy more than $40 million. That study also noted that there were so many scallops in the waters off New England that some of them were dying of old age.

Given that, the council's move spawned understandable and justified cries of foul from fishermen and elected officials, including New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang and Congressman Barney Frank. And over the weekend, Gov. Deval Patrick joined in the call for the council to reconsider the limits as well.

Yesterday, the council's chairman, John Pappalardo, finally said the council would at least put reconsideration of the scallop limit on the agenda for the council's upcoming meeting in Portsmouth, N.H.

Pappalardo is employed by the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association, which may sound like an industry group, but receives significant investment from environmental groups.

So all is well, right? Hardly. The fact is, Pappalardo agreed to have his board reconsider the economically disastrous scallop limits only after Frank called for him to resign if the issue weren't at least placed on the agenda. And it was Pappalardo himself who initially and unilaterally refused to put the item on the agenda, despite the cries of outrage last week. Finally, "reconsideration" doesn't mean revised. These limits cannot be allowed to hold.

All of this may seem outrageous - but it's hardly surprising. Pappalardo, you see, is employed by the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association, which may sound like an industry group, but receives significant investment from environmental groups.

And the Environmental Defense Fund itself has a representative on the New England Council - Sally McGee, who perhaps not so coincidentally chairs the council's Scallop Committee. She was the one who moved to reduce the scallop catch - raising more red flags that the limit has been driven not by credible science, but by an agenda. The council also voted to reduce the allowable catch of pollock by two-thirds, and herring by 23 percent. Both will have a significant impact in Gloucester.

Thankfully, the response to this is growing as well. In late December, 16 members of Congress, including Frank and Congressman John Tierney, who represents Cape Ann, sent a letter to Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, urging him to loosen the limits on scallops.

Last week, New Bedford Mayor Lang added his strong voice to the protest, seeking a thorough look into the relationships linking EDF, the Pew Environment Group and Pappalardo's Cape Cod hook fishermen's group.

And Frank, backed again by Tierney and other federal lawmakers, is looking into a full, fresh look at the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which prescribes the format for governing America's fisheries.

That's a good place for any reforms to start.

Congress controls the federal government's purse strings. It should close them off to a council that is going to allow itself to be controlled by special interests.

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