When it comes to regulatory issues, the fishing industry often finds itself facing off against environmentalists. And some recent moves by the Trump administration seem to be leaning more in the direction of siding with fishermen.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), the regulatory body that sets the rules for the fishing industry, is meeting this week, and one of the topics of conversation is a recent decision regarding fishing in New Jersey.
The ASMFC said the population of summer flounder - also known as fluke –has been declining since 2010 and is at serious risk. So the commission reduced limits on how much could be caught. New Jersey came up with alternative plan which the state asserted would protect the fish, while still allowing more fishing. But the fisheries commission rejected the New Jersey plan, saying too many fish would be caught, and that it would be bad for the population.
Ordinarily, the federal government listens to the commission’s recommendations. But last week, the U.S. Department of Commerce rejected its recommendation, allowing New Jersey to go ahead with its plan. The ASMFC says this is the first time since passage of the Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act in 1993 and the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act in 1984 that the secretary of commerce rejected a noncompliance recommendation by the commission.
And the commission wasn't happy about it.
“You could envision fishermen or industry members in Massachusetts saying, ‘hey, you know, a state a few states down the coast from us isn’t required to comply with ASMFC standards, so why are we as Massachusetts fishermen being so conservative?’” said ASMFC Executive Director Bob Beal. “The big concern is if a number of other states do that, then the shared resources up and down the coast could be impacted."
A written statement from a spokesperson from the Department of Commerce said the long-term sustainability of American fishing stocks, and the jobs that rely on them, are of utmost concern to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
“Secretary Ross accepted NOAA’s assessment that New Jersey’s management measures could result in a similar level of overall removals – and thus conservation – as desired by the Commission’s plan, while also preserving jobs supported by the recreational summer flounder industry in New Jersey,” the statement said.
NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, falls under the federal Department of Commerce.
"I do think it's healthy for the administration to not simply rubber stamp everything that is done by these commissions, but rather have an actual role in it,” said Bob Vanasse, executive director of an industry group called Saving Seafood. “And I do think that elections matter," he said.
Vanasse said this is an example of Trump administration listening to the fishing industry.
"I think there's definitely been a shift in how the commercial fishing industry, how their issues are being addressed by this administration,” he said. “And I think, frankly, it’s a mistake to think it’s some kind of right-wing, Trump administration, erroneous action. I think it’s actually, overall, positive."
Vanasse said another example of that positive impact is the federal review that's happening now of national monuments, including Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, which is about 130 miles off the coast of Cape Cod. The Obama administration designated it an offshore monument near the end of his presidency, closing it off to a lot of fishermen.
Vanasse said the Trump administration's review of that monument designation is an example of something that's being handled responsibly by people who have careers in this area -- not just political appointees.
The environmental community sees that pretty differently.
"In the case of our oceans, they’re ignoring the real strain that overfishing and over-exploitation puts on this resource,” said Alexandra Adams, senior advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument specifically was protected to avoid the very problem that this administration is hurtling towards."
Adams said this administration is favoring all industry over health of the nation’s natural resources.
Last week, the Department of Commerce announced it has extended the public comment period on the offshore monument issue for an extra 15 days, ending now on August 14.
There's also a hearing Tuesday in Washington about the re-authorization of the Magnuson Stevens Act, which is the primary law governing all marine fisheries management in the country. The re-authorization process may lead to some proposed changes to the industry’s regulation.
And if all this talk about fish has you hankering for seafood, the Boston Seafood Festival is coming to town a week from Sunday.