Documentary “Counting Fish” Sheds Light On Fishermen/NOAA Rift

Recently the Discovery Channel showed “Sacred Cod” which looked into the divide that separates Fishermen and NOAA’s fishery scientists here in New England. Fishermen have said for years that the methods used in the trawl surveys are flawed and that cod is much more abundant in the Gulf of Maine than scientists claim. The extremely low quotas that some fishermen are allocated make it nearly impossible to make a living. They are catching incidental cod when targeting other fish, meaning that their season could be cut short from fish that are not supposed to be there.

This documentary, “Counting Fish” shows how a team of researchers are working with fishermen to count fish stocks by using underwater cameras in nets that do not catch the fish. By going out there and collaborating with guys that actually know how to catch fish, these researchers are getting a better idea of what fishermen see out there.

In the past fishermen have noticed NOAA survey vessels using nets too small for their size and horsepower. There was even the infamous “trawlgate” where the survey vessel did not even have the net set correctly. The data taken from this misshapen, bouncing net were “peer-reviewed” and used to enact policy. Data once claimed that dogfish, a cod predator, were depleated despite what fishermen were seeing. They later realized that the plentiful dogfish threatened the cod rebuilding plan and so now allow a fishery. NOAA once claimed a dire state for George’s bank sea scallops, only to be proven wrong by use of underwater cameras. This discovery has helped make New Bedford, Massachusetts the leading fishing port in America. With all of this do you still wonder why fishermen distrust policy makers?

Hopefully new technology like that shown in the video, along with more collaboration between fisheries scientists and fishermen, can bridge this divide. It is only then can we get a clearer picture of the state of the fishery.

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