TRANSCRIPT - Dr. Vaughan Anthony
Vaughan Anthony is on the Scientific and Statistical Committee
of the New England Fishery Management Council in Boothbay,
The ground fishery in New England has begun to show a slow recovery
in some areas, but a lot of the marine scientists still refer to
it as the poster child for a fishery that was not being operated
sustainably. Could you summarize the state of cod stocks and the
quotas that were set during your tenure at the National Marine Fisheries
actually use quotas for cod or haddock or groundfish. When ICNAF
died in '75 and we went the 200-mile limit, we had catch quotas
leftover from ICNAF. And we kind of used them for a year or two.
But they weren't really enforced and by 1981 or 1982 the interim
plan came in and they got rid of quotas because we didn't need them
anymore. So we got rid of quotas unfortunately. And people didn't
like them. It was a dirty word.
So during your tenure at NMFS and at the New England Fishery Management
Council, were the stocks going downhill?
and '82, I would say the fishing effort and mortality rate doubled
in New England. When the 200-mile limit came in, people thought
they could harvest tremendous quantities of fish. And the numbers
of boats and sizes of vessels exploded. And fishing stocks went
from being underfished to overfished in about four years.
And the science
was ignored early on. The New England Councils effectively abolished
the scientific and statistical committees because they didn't need
them anymore. So the attitude was that we didn't need stock assessments
and we didn't need management. Leave us alone. Let us do our thing.
So the scientists
at Woods Hole didn't interact with the New England Council very
much during the early '80s. It was the middle '80s before we got
back together with them and gave them advice. And it still took
4 or 5 years before they followed it. People had to see for themselves
how bad things were before they were to admit they even had a problem.
I had no idea there was no management for such a long period.
In the West
Coast, the Scientific and Statistical Committee meets with the Council
at every monthly meeting. We didn't even have meetings. We didn't
exist. We were abolished. And later on when we did have a meeting
and were asked to do something, the report never was sent to the
Council. They did not want the information. They did not want to
be bothered with the facts and the data. They wanted to continue
to do their own thing. And they didn't want the science to interfere.
When NMFS started becoming more involved in the 80's, even when
they realized they had a problem and the quotas started to be used,
were they watering down some of the recommendations you were making
at that time?
No, they weren't
watering them down. We were very careful in how we put them together.
We set up a peer review stock assessment working group and we made
sure that twice a year we met in Woods Hole with people from all
the states -- from academia, scientists from the West Coast, Canada,
even Europe -- people who didn't know what our fishes were.. And
we made sure that whatever we did, it was highly based on peer-reviewed
And we met with
the Councils and made sure that we wrote those results up in such
a way that they could understand them. And we standardized our results
and they were very happy with how we did our work and how we presented
the information. They didn't question the data. And while we didn't
know everything and didn't answer all their questions, we had good
rapport with them. They learned very early on that what we were
telling them was the best information that we could pull together.
So they had faith in what we produced.
was in trying to control tremendous fishing effort and mortality
in the stocks. Technology was increasing tremendously by these guys
and every year they were improving their techniques and how they
caught fish -- the vessels, the gear, the fish-finding equipment.
They got better and better and better. And a lot of people did not
want direct mortality controls. People thought by adjusting the
mesh size a little bit here and there or putting in an enclosed
area that would reduce the mortality rate by 20 to 30%. A lot people
really believed that.
And we told
them it wouldn't work. We said we knew that back in the '30s. But
they didn't want to hear that. They wanted to prove to their constituency
back home, their fishing friends and their buddies and themselves
that maybe doing something would result in some benefit. And in
the back of their mind they just hoped to get a good year class
come through and they would solve all these problems. It never happened,
So they didn't
water down what we said. They just tried to put through indirect
measures that were not effective. And many of them really wanted
to manage right but they didn't know how to do it. Most of the people
on the Council were not scientists. They certainly were not fish
managers. Some of them were retired used car salesmen. There were
sport fishermen, fsh dealers, fishermen. Very few of them had any
knowledge about fish management and what would work and what would
So they tried
everything. If it didn't work, they didn't mind so much because
their buddies were making big bucks as the stocks were declining.
How about Grand Bank? Are the Canadian waters in bad shape?
as bad as we are. They've got a problem because of the northern
cod stock, which is a long story. But they've done a better job
overall than we have because they used effort controls back as early
as '75 and we didn't start doing them until the '80s. But they have
And they have
other problems because their area is so much bigger. And they have
other countries that they have to consider. And they have environmental
problems and seal problems. We don't have the environmental problems
really to speak of. And we don't have foreign nationalists to worry
about anymore. We have a smaller area and a more productive area.
What do you mean by environmental problems?
going up or down, or some really bad storms the wrong time of year
and so forth. We've been really lucky. Water temperature has really
been up and holding up which is one of the reasons why we have such
good lobsteries right now. Since 1975, water temperature has been
holding up at a pretty good level and fairly steady. It's really
helped a lot of resources.
Did you ever yourself attend a New England Fishery Management Council
meeting and witness the process wherein your recommendations were
discounted to some degree?
Oh no. In the
late '80s and in the '90s, I attended almost all the meetings. And
I used to give my stock assessment results of our stock assessment-working
group to the committee. They wanted to hear that sort of stuff,
but some of them would admit that they weren't going to do anything
But many of
them listened. Many of them wanted to do things but there's no way
a lot of them were going to just put on restrictions to their fishermen
back home. They wouldn't be on the Council very long. Many of them
wanted to keep their seats. They just hoped for a miracle that things
would turn around. They just didn't know how to bring the stock
back without putting fishermen out of business or cutting down the
fishermen so much that fishermen just couldn't make a go of it.
the worst businessmen in the world. They're really good fishermen.
But they don't plan their business very well. And if they don't
make their payments on a boat from month to month, they're in tough
shape. They live hand-to-mouth existence and you can't run a business
that way. Naturally you have stocks that go up and down. You have
to allow for good and bad times. And they don't do that. And the
only way they can continue is to overfish when stocks are bad and
catch as many as they can when things are good.
What changes do you think have to happen in the management regime
here in New England to keep history from repeating itself, so that
special interests just don't discount science and so forth?
We still got
a conflict of interest problem. We got people sitting on the New
England Council now that own two or three boats, buying from the
boats. They're some of the best people on the Council as a matter
of fact. But it's very hard for them to make hard decisions against
themselves. We also have people there that still don't understand
science, don't understand management. We need to develop professional
managers on the Council.
you can't manage a resource working only a couple days a month like
the Councils do, particularly when you've got a tough problem like
you do in New England. You've got to know what you're doing. And
these people don't know what works and what doesn't work. And it
changes every two or three years. By the time they get on top of
things and know pretty much what's going on, they're replaced and
somebody else comes along on the Council.
is scientists don't have much of a role. Scientists need to be at
the table voting on the issues. So that if something goes through
that is scientifically wrong, a scientist has to say so or be in
a position to say something about it. We need more science to understand
population dynamics, what fishing mortality rates are, what it means
when stocks are at a certain levels.
And we need
to get rid of this conflict of interest bit and get people on the
Council that are not fishermen, that are not dealers, and not wide-eyed
conservationists either who just want to conserve period.
As a scientist, what is your opinion of ITQ's?
If you asked
me my personal, social, individual point of view for the Maine coast,
I'd be against them. The Maine coast is characterized by small-boat
fisheries; mostly small communities. They don't make a lot of money
but they have a way of life that's wonderful. They enjoy what they're
doing. They like to compete with one another for what they're catching.
They don't want ownership necessarily. They want to go and compete
with their buddies for catching the fish. They want to have a community
that they've always had.
And far as I'm
concerned, that's the kind of thing we want to foster. It's really
social objectives that I'm talking about. You probably wouldn't
want to maximize all your catches of fish. And it would vary like
crazy up and down the coast. I would want those kinds of dynamics
to be the background of a fishery program on the Maine coast. So
I would not want ITQs for most of Northern New England.
In other places
ITQs work very well. It's very efficient. It's paid off. And you
find people all the time arguing the benefits of one against the
other. And I think there are places for both of them. That's where
the managers have to come in and say we want to do what's best for
the community in this part of the world with these given species
and the state they're in.
I don't like ITQs. I'm just scared of them. I like to have an old-fashioned
guy having the Maine way of life continue as much as possible.
Taking into account the crash of cod and groundfish and their slow
recovery, do you think New England fishermen and representatives
of the fishing industry are now more prepared to bite the bullet
and allow for closed areas, lower quotas, limited days at sea?
I think they
are. They've come around a lot now. Fishermen have had a chance
to experience low catches for a long period of time and they have
a pretty good idea of what's going on with the status of stocks.
For a long time, they were in a period of denial and they didn't
want to believe that the stocks were low. And I think they all pretty
well know what's going on. So many of them are willing to charge
ahead and do what's right.
I think the
Councils now are the best it's ever been. I think they're trying
to do what's right now. They're more educated now than they ever
were. They're smarter in general than they were. They know what
needs to be done. They're following the rules. They're befuddled
now with the tremendous numbers of regulations and things they're
trying to do. And they can't keep track of everything. And of course
the Magnuson Act is changing constantly, evolving for the good,
but what's defined as overfishing is changing, and the economics
and the definitions are changing. And they can't keep up with it
and they're frustrating. It's a tough job and they need to be working
almost 30 days a month not a couple of days. They need to spend
more time with what they're trying to do.
I think we're
going to have to bite the bullet and do some stuff. And the Council
is doing it now. They've lowered the fishing mortality rate. That's
why haddock and cod and yellow-tipped flounder have come back on
Georges Bank. They've reduced the mortality rate just like we said
it would happen. You cut that mortality rate down; they're going
to come back. And the productivity is very high and still is high.
You give these fish half the chance and they're going to come back.
Now that you've knocked back the fishing effort, how long will it
take a cod to regenerate? And second, what do you think about the
habitat issue that Les Watling is working on? He's saying it's going
to take longer because the bottom doesn't have the high relief it
used to because the trawls are knocking that relief down and the
juvenile fish don't have anyplace to hide.
We've been dragging
on these bottoms since the 1920s and we still see very high level
of productivity of these resources. The other side of the coin is
you're turning over the bottom all the time and in one sense you're
re-fertilizing the place all the time by digging up the bottom.
You're losing a lot of animals and plants on the bottoms you might
like to have. But if you're just talking about the food supply for
some of these fish, I'm not sure you're doing that much damage.
How long does it take cod to regenerate under ideal circumstances?
Here in Georges
Bank, you can catch a cod at age 3 or 4 and do pretty well harvesting
them at a reasonable rate. The problem is when you're rebuilding
a spawning stock you need many different age groups within that
spawning stock. You need 4 or 5 good year classes in there. What
traditionally happens is you get one good year stock come along,
like the '98 class of haddock, that will build up but the following
age group will be low. And the following will be low. And then you'll
have a good one again. So you need 3 or 4 good year class in your
spawning stock biomass to be healthy.
You can have
a fairly high number on a short-term basis that gives you good spawners
but it's going to decline pretty soon because it's going to die
off. You need a broad-based spawning stock of several ages. That's
when we say it's fully recovered. It's just not when you have an
awful lot of one size fish coming back.
So you think the Councils have come around attitude-wise and they've
realized, and yet they're still catching more than 50% of the stocks?
In the Gulf
of Maine, they have. What happened is that when they shut down the
mortality rate in Georges, a lot of people that fish Georges moved
up into the Gulf of Maine. And so the pressure is going up in the
Gulf of Maine. And the spawning stock is still declining in the
Gulf of Maine. It still hasn't come back. But in Georges Bank they
have cut the mortality rate down and the Georges Bank cod is rebuilding.
There's some new language in the law that says that fishery managers
in the U.S. are supposed to start giving credence to what's called
the precautionary principle. Do you believe in that?
Oh yes. That's
something we've been pushing for a long time. It came out of FAO
some time ago, the Code of Professional Conduct and so forth. Basically
the precautionary principle is you don't let the fact that you don't
know everything stop you from making sensible progress when you
know something should be done. And for years people have used this,
particularly in New England, saying if we don't know everything
about everything we shouldn't do anything. So the point is if you
know something needs to be done and you don't know everything, the
point is to proceed in the right direction and learn as you go,
and not to back away.
We heard rumors that at times pressure is brought to bear on a regional
agency of the National Marine Fisheries Service from Capitol Hill,
that the word coming down from up high is that they have to back
off on the severity of the management. Have you ever known that
to happen in New England?
for years have jumped on the bandwagon of the fishermen and when
the fishermen say that you shouldn't be so restrictive because we
think maybe your data aren't good enough or we're just trying to
make a living, politicians always support them because there are
many more votes from them than there are from the scientists. It's
been very frustrating for me to read the letter from the Council
saying we're going to protect you people from those awful scientists
type of thing and even the Council people laugh at some stuff. But
politicians are politicians. They remain politicians.
In light of everything you were advising and what came to pass,
have you ever felt vindicated? Has anyone on the management Council
ever say that they should've listened to you?
Oh, yes. Before
I retired, they all did. We had no problem with the managers back
in the early '90s. I think that almost everybody who listened to
us and heard what we had to say believed us and had faith in everything
we did. And some of our worst enemies early on were our greatest
pals in the end because we had a peer-reviewed scientific system
that was wide open that anybody could look at and there was nothing
hidden. If we ever had an opportunity to give them data or explain
something, we did. And we had great credibility in what we did.
The managers were no problem. And they always said we didn't have
any problems with our numbers. We were honest as we could possibly
be and we proved ourselves over and over. We've been doing this
since the '70s. We got their respect.
And when I retired,
I had a lot of people say the reason they didn't listen way back
when was because they had their own agenda. They were making money.
And they weren't going to follow any regulations no matter how useful
they were. And people say they wished they had followed but it was
difficult for them to do that at that time. Their hearts were in
the right place.
at Woods Hole have a reputation in the world of being the best.
And they have been all the time I was there and they still do. And
you talk to people that really count in the scientific field in
Norway and Germany and Scotland and they can tell you what kind
of science we had at Woods Hole. And I'm very proud of what we did
down there. And there's nothing that I feel bad about at all.
Is it true that had the environmental groups not sued the National
Marine Fisheries Service at one point, some critical changes that
are operating now wouldn't have happened?
Prior to about
the late '80s or the early '90s, we didn't have any environmental
groups in the Council meetings at all. The Conservation Law Foundation
and other groups came along and started taking notice of what we
were doing. I don't like some of these radical conservation groups.
They're really scary and they're nuts. But these people really were
helpful. They stood up and did something we scientists could not
do. God bless them, they were the only group that was saying: "Hey,
the scientists are saying things and you guys don't seem to be listening
to them. Why aren't you listening to them?"
And that forced
the managers to think twice about what we were saying and go back
and say, well Vaughn, what did you say again? Tell us this again.
And gave us another opportunity to speak. And so it allowed us to
take a little bit more of an active role in the management system.
So they were very helpful. Then when they sued NMFS for not doing
what we were supposed to do that opened up the gates and set limits
of stock size and things that we had to meet. And the science was
there. And the Council had to find a way to do it. And that led
to reductions in mortality rates on Georges Bank and recovery of
But what about fishes that never returned, like redfish?
sue the National Marine Fisheries Service, it's been a lost cause
every time. They've never won because the science has been very
good. We don't know everything about everything but we have a lot
of good basic science that has always been good enough for the kind
of management that the Council put forth because the management
hasn't been very detailed and hasn't required extensive data. So
the suing has really done no good.
Every time we
get sued, it exacerbates the whole management system tremendously
and does nobody any good. And so far the suing is a very ineffective
method of trying to meet a certain need and usually that need is
a smoke screen to delay some action on a system. And it's a shame
people have to resort to that foolishness because as far as I'm
concerned, there's ample opportunity for people to get in the system
and ask the right questions and demand the right answers and so
forth. And people who don't know how to do that, they resort to
something like suing and it's frustrating to see it happen.
Sue Salveson, of NMFS in Juneau, also talks about the headaches
of being sued all the time and how it takes people away from what
they should be doing. And in your view there's ample opportunity
for people who question what's going on to get involved. But if
the management didn't listen to you, they certainly wouldn't have
listened to someone with the Conservation Law Foundation, unless
they did sue. Wouldn't that be true?
I think early
on that was the situation. I think the suing back in the early '90s
really turned things around in New England. It really made a difference.
And I hate to say it, but I'm glad that that action happened. The
conservation groups, God bless them, got in there and came in at
the right time and provided a useful function. A lot times they
just get in the way and get emotional and get foolish and start
talk about all kinds of crazy things.
Anything else you want to add?
One of the big
problems we have today is the fact that we're getting dedicated
funding from Washington that doesn't allow the National Marine Fisheries
Service to have the flexibility to do what it needs to do. They
don't have the flexibility to do sea sampling, for example, for
groundfish. They spend a lot money doing sea sampling for marine
mammals but the money is coming down dedicated for certain areas.
And so much is dedicated along certain lines so that when it comes
down to some places like Woods Hole, Woods Hole doesn't have the
flexibility to use that money in efficient way and provide all the
answers to Council. So NMFS is suffering right now.
to the stage now finally where I think NMFS is going to not be able
to provide the information the Councils need for management. And
for the first time, they're going to have a correct statement when
they say they can't do their job because they don't have the information
they need to do it. And that would be a first and it's too bad that
the science isn't going to be good enough for them to manage.
I know you've done consulting elsewhere in the world. We've also
been to Indonesia, the Philippines, and down in Latin America. And
in a lot of these places, not only do they not have any funding
for fisheries management, oftentimes they don't even have a fisheries
management plan. How is that ever going to get to turn around? Elsewhere
in the world fisheries are going to hell.
to have to happen is like any other business. The people who are
making money and doing the fishing and so forth are going to have
to hire their own scientists and do their own management. If you're
buying and selling corn, you have to get your own scientists to
go out with the farmers and work and do that sort of thing. You
don't rely on the government. You do it yourself.
A few people
have control of the resource and make a lot of money, then time
comes and they do their own research. They pay for their own scientists.
They develop their own research programs. They don't rely on the
government any more for anything. That's going to happen more and
more. So you're going to see a lot of freelance biologists being
paid by the people who are making the money. I think it's like any
other business. We're going to have to go in that direction and
not rely on the federal government or the state government.
It's becoming almost a mantra worldwide -- too many boats chasing
after too few fish. And everyone's talking about population
growth and we've got 6 billion people. And 15 of the 17 most important
global commercial fisheries are either fully exploited or being
depleted. Do you think we have a population problem? Or do you think
there's just too much fishing effort and the answer is what you
prescribed for New England, which is to actually reduce effort?
Can this be done worldwide?
Part of the
problem worldwide is that fishermen have become extremely efficient
at catching fish. So even if we had the same number of people today
you had before, you'd have too many because each guy now is worth
ten guys ten years ago. So technology has improved so much that
you don't need as many fishermen. And the fishermen won't go away.
We do have a
big population problem--there's just too many people. This is true.But
there is a limit to what we can catch. The cod on Georges Bank,
you can't take more than 35 thousand tons. Or haddock, you probably
never go back and take more than 45 thousand if you're lucky. And
in the Gulf of Maine, you can't take anymore than 10 thousand tons
of cod. But we should be taking that. We should manage our fishery
in such a way that we are maximizing our catch if we want to meet
those goals of feeding all the people.
So it sounds like you're saying that it is a renewable resource
if you manage it correctly, but even that has its limits.
We know what those limits are. But we're not even close to the limits
though. It's frustrating because we know. If scientists were put
in charge and they were god or czar overnight and they were allowed
to control the fishing mortality, we could increase the catch in
New England by a factor of 3 almost in a matter of 4 or 5 years
if we did the right thing. We will be there someday. We have a great
opportunity to improve our catches and have a good fishery again.
And we're going to do that.
In a best case scenario, if all of a sudden the stocks are back
to levels they were 15 or 20 years ago, how do you manage it? What
kind of quotas do you set? How do you keep the stock up?
Like I said
earlier, for groundfish as a general rule, you should harvest no
more than 25-30% of the stock annually. That means you leave 75%
of the fish in the ocean every year. So you go out there and you
look off your vessel and you see lots of fish down there, you take
1/4 of them and you leave 3/4 behind. Now you've got to find a way
to do that.
And I personally
think the best way is with effort regulations. You've got to know
what these guys can do and you keep them tied to the dock and don't
let them go out there because they're going to catch them. And you
can use a catch quota as a check and balance on what they're doing.
And you need very tight control. You need to monitor them very carefully.
They'll overfish in a heartbeat if you give them just a chance.
So you got to force them not to overfish the resource.
I'm a big believer
in inefficiencies. The Magnuson Act says that we should push for
efficiencies in how you harvest fish. And that's one of the biggest
problems I've had with the Magnuson Act. I think when you look at
the social dynamics of fisheries, if we had tied people's hands
behind their backs a little bit over the years and made them fight
a little bit they would've been better off because they wouldn't
have overfished the fish so quickly. And they still would've been
able to compete and they would've been happy.
What do you mean by inefficiencies and 'tying one hand behind the
Limit the size
of the trolls, not allow them to use rockhopper gear, limit the
size of horsepower of their vessels, not allow big boats to fish
in certain areas, have sanctuaries in certain places, bigger mesh
sizes; a whole variety of things. Just limit the way they fish.
Just make it harder for them to land the fish. Make it more inefficient
for them because they're so good at catching.
today have really used technology. They don't even steer the boat
or look out the window anymore. They just press the buttons. Today
they don't even look out the wheel house anymore. They just press
a button and go from these coordinates to those coordinates. Anybody
can do it once you understand how to run a computer.
Most of the
complaints out of fishermen are, "We want to go fishing like
we did in the old days; we don't really want to get rich; and I
want to compete with my buddy over there and I want to see if I
can catch 2 more fish than he does." And as long as they make
a reasonable living, that's all they really care about.
But many of
these guys bought several boats and got big boats and they're going
in to optimizing their profits and made a big business out of it.
And then when some of these guys can't pay for the boat, they say,
What do I do? Bail me out. And now they're begging the government
to bail them out and give them the money because they bought a boat
and they don't have the inventory. They're just poor businessmen.
If you're running a general store and you do that, tough, you'll
go bankrupt. But if you're a fisherman or a farmer, the government
bails you out. So these guys are not very good businessmen that
way. But what they really want to do, they just want to go fishing.
They want to make a decent living, that's all.