TRANSCRIPT - Barbara Stevenson
Stevenson is a member of the New England Fishery Management
Council Barbara Stevenson and the owner of several fishing
We've talked to a lot of fishermen up and down the New England Coast
and a lot of the small-boat fishermen complain that they are unable
to go far off shore, unlike some of the bigger boats, and that's
really hurt their ability to make a living. They're really biting
the bullet and they're really hoping that the cod stocks would return
and that the closed areas would open up. Would you care to comment
on the plight on the small-boat fishermen?
Gulf of Maine
cod are concentrated inshore. They're not the traditional grounds
of the small-boat vessels and it puts a lot of strain on their resources
to fish in places they haven't fished in, or further offshore than
they normally can fish in. Many of their boats may not be able to
fish in those offshore waters.
Everyone talks about the collapse of the cod fishery in the North
Atlantic. How did we get here?
to say how we got here. Of course, there was a lot of foreign fishing
here when the haddock resource was so high in the '70s. And then
there was a mood of euphoria when the Magnuson Act passed and a
lot of building, because there was this perception that the domestic
fleet could never catch the quantities that the foreign fleets caught.
But something else must have been happening because there was a
cod crisis in Norway, a cod crisis in Iceland, a cod crisis in Canada,
and you had a cod crisis here. So that indicates that it's not just
something that happened here.
we managed to stop the crisis before it got as bad as it got in
some other areas. And in Georges, the stock is rebounding. We've
had some closed areas there for years, and we're a little bit concerned
about recruitment. There haven't been enough babies and the babies
might not have grown up the way they should, but why that is, whether
it's a recruitment or we haven't hit the right year yet, we don't
know. So we're eagerly awaiting that event.
In the Gulf
of Maine, unfortunately, when we put the original regulations in,
the stock was healthy. And to give all the inshore vessels a break,
we set up different, less conservative targets than we did on Georges.
And because of the regulations which also allowed small boats, even
if they didn't fish before, and didn't constrain the smaller boat,
a lot of vessels went into the fishery.
So the combination
of not setting as strict a goal because the stock was healthy and
that smaller boats could get in put too much pressure on that fishery
then. And we have to solve that problem but it's a very difficult
problem to solve.
Did it happen that way for Georges Bank, as well as for the near-shore
I was describing
what happened in the entire Atlantic. On Georges is where we stopped
soon enough because we put the closed areas in, we put these drastic
reductions in the days a vessel could fish in addition to the 8
to 9000 square miles that are closed in Georges. So we gave that
stock protection. The individual fish are growing like Gangbusters
been many babies in the Gulf of Maine. For some reason, we have
plenty of healthy adults. So it's not that we don't have plenty
of adults. Something else is going on. There's some very hopeful
signs from what are 2-inch codfish right now. But we know enough
to know that that's a good sign, but you don't rejoice until they
get to 10-12 inches.
Scientists are saying that recruitment is still a problem, and that
research indicates that there's been some impact on bottom habitat
- on the ocean's floor, that the fish's hiding place is being knocked
down by roller gear and such.
have different impacts, and there are good and bad things for every
kind of gear. It's a much more complex question than, "Is this gear
good or is this gear bad?" In different situations every gear is
either good or bad. There have been some very interesting movies
made on scallop gear and bottom impacts. Actually, many people are
quite amazed because the movies they've made inside the closure
area and outside the closed areas look essentially the same, which
would indicate that on the bottom there is virtually no impact.
How about in the coral?
We have deep
cold-water beds of coral in the Gulf of Maine. Any kind of gear
can knock the coral off, from recreational hooks to otter trawls.
Otter trawls don't tend to go in that area because damage to their
gear is too bad, but there are certain areas where you have to look
at all the gear. For instance, what do lobster traps do when they're
hauled through coral? I don't know, but you should look at the whole
You mention rockhoppers. I've heard that rockhoppers have allowed
bottom trawl fishing in areas that previously were not accessible,
due to damage to the gear. But since the invention of rockhoppers,
now there's no place left for the fish to hide.
do hop, so you have less interaction with the bottom, which in theory
it might mean that you could fish in places you couldn't fish before.
To my knowledge that hasn't happened with our fleet, but we never
fished on hard bottom. The New Bedford fleet was traditionally a
hard bottom fleet. The difference is that they used to take 15 bellies
(which is the bottom part of the net) because they tear them out.
They don't do that anymore.
Now, that just
means that the crew is more relaxed. It doesn't mean that they're
fishing in other areas. You could take the example that they now
they don't have to put 15 bellies in the net to indicate that obviously
they have less interaction with the bottom then they did before.
Sometimes scientists have said that their research results and their
advice have not been addressed by the Fisheries Council. Would you
care to comment?
looking at the advice on the status of the stocks, my take is that
they can very easily tell you if things are improving or if they're
going the other way. That's well in their skill range. But to be
able to tell you the number is between 782 metric tons and 827 metric
tons, they don't have that skill level. And we've forced that process
into trying to make that argument between 700-something and 800-something.
When the scientists
give the council advice, the council members know that there's a
wide range of probabilities. If they say it's 782, they might say
there's a 90% probability that it's somewhere between 325 and 1275;
yes it's probably somewhere in there. But the council then has to
translate that into what other things they've heard. What other
things are going on? And then translate that into well, how quick
is the recovery and what are the impact to these different groups.
Then last year
we had a phenomenon here with cold water from the Labrador current,
which maybe is why there wasn't a lot of codfish, I don't know.
But you have other phenomena which are unique and not protected.
So this is not a 1 + 1 = 2, this is a 1 + 1 might equal a half or
five. And trying to come to the right conclusion is very difficult.
Some of these scientists have said that marine fisheries are a national
resource, at least within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
And since it is a public asset or resource, a council that presides
over the management of the resource should represent the stakeholders
- everyone in the nation - and not be dominated by any one group.
But the problem
is that the management has been dominated by the industry. And as
is the nature of any business, the council manages this public resource
in terms of short-term gain over long-term gains, which as a result,
has hurt the fishing industry. Do you believe that?
that fishermen have a longer-term view than the scientists have.
Council members are appointed for the maximum benefit of the nation,
though it's not as important as it used to be. That's the important
thing. The important thing is to manage this resource for the maximum
benefit of the nation.
Now, if the
maximum benefit to the nation is to provide employment for a large
group of people who don't have another alternative, and that means
that the cod stocks or whatever stocks are not as healthy as someone
might want, then that's a rational decision for the council to make
because its view is for the most benefit of the nation.
We've had several
problems recently with people who are too bent on the science and
the science of numbers and this stock assessment. One of their biggest
arguments in the Gulf of Maine is that fishermen wanted to close
spawning areas. And the scientists were saying about spawning area
closures, it doesn't matter when the fish are caught.
Well, we finally
get confirmation from Canada that it does matter because they have
this ritual and if the ritual is disturbed they don't spawn. So
we spent 5 years arguing with the scientists that we wanted to close
spawning areas and the scientists saying that doesn't matter and
lo and behold, we ended up being right.
people who observe things. Well, what does a fisherman do every
day? Now, I'm not saying people don't look at their bottom line
and whether they're going to go out of business or not, but they
also think about if they're going to be in business in 5 years.
How does it feel, as a council member and owner of a successful
business, to have everyone breathing down your neck and blaming
the fishing industry or the management councils for the problems
that we're having?
I feel very
beleaguered, and I'm very glad that when I come home the fishermen
here, whether I voted the way they wanted to or not, they give me
the space that I need. They talk to me, give me information, and
don't always blame me when the council does something they don't
I get very frustrated
with the conservation industry, whose jobs depend on things looking
bleak and dire. Some of them are, but most of them aren't very constructive
in dealing with the issues.
NMFS is very
difficult sometimes to work with because they like to dot i's and
cross t's and some of us like to look at the broader picture. The
most frustrating thing is when different sectors of the industry
are fighting amongst themselves and that's what probably causes
me the most grief.
What kind of management practices would you like to see in place
today to keep stocks healthy? What do you think the solution is?
I believe that
we should recognize our limits. And so I believe in the concept
of husbanding rather than managing. Mother Nature will do what Mother
Nature is going to do, but we can do a lot to be sure that we get
the maximum benefit out of whatever we happen to have.
I think that
there's been much too much belief that the science can tell us things
that it can't tell us. And we need to step back, do what we can
do and aid the science in learning. But this is science; it's not
facts. We're not talking about the speed of a train or something
that's easily measurable and you can do the calculations. It's very
difficult. And the amount that we don't know is just staggering.
So in that sense,
I think we should all take a step back and take a broader view and
not believe we can solve every problem every year. We need to just
work on whatever problems that we can deal with.
I do not believe
in ITQ's. ITQ's would make me rich, but it would be devastating
to Danise, Maine, where there are very little options. Everywhere
in the world that they've been put in, they concentrate the fishery
into the centers, which would mean Portland would do better than
Stonington and Gloucester might do better than Portland. But Danise,
Maine needs a fishing industry more than Portland does.
We've heard too many times this common phrase: Too many boats
chasing after too few fish. Would you agree?
It's in your
perspective. And this may sound weird coming from a conservative
republican, but there's a lot to be said for providing employment
opportunities, and there are fisheries - not necessarily here -
that are managed with the sole goal of maintaining those employment
opportunities. If that's your goal, then there is no such thing
as too many vessels. There might be too few fish, but that's a separate
On the larger
scale, when you're talking about giant factory trawlers, I don't
think there's a place for them on the East Coast. Maybe in other
parts of the worlds, but not here. We don't have any giant factory
trawlers here now.
A lot of people
have said, "We don't understand. The optimum size boat for the Gulf
of Maine is 54 feet, but they're a lot larger than that. And we
don't understand this." Well, did you consider that the fisherman
spends most of his life there, and he might actually want a bunk
to himself, might actually want a bathroom that has hot water?"
And when you add all of these things the length of the boat has
to be larger. And the people say, "No, that doesn't fit into our
calculations." Well, it certainly fits into their offices.
In terms of fisheries management, is it your sense that there have
been mistakes made in the past? How could they have been avoided
and how can we avoid them in the future?
Yes, we make
mistakes every day, but everybody else makes mistakes, too. The
one thing that bothers me is when you hear scientists who say 'Well,
let's try this; this'll be a great experiment." And they're talking
about my life. That disturbs me greatly. But to think you can do
fisheries management without making mistakes is just wrong. You
have to try to do the best you can not to make mistakes and to rectify
them as soon as you realize they are mistakes.
in the overriding amendment that put in the days at sea and all
of the constraints that were under the groundfish plan, they originally
excluded a lot of categories because they didn't think they were
important. Well they quickly found out they were and had to put
And then because
of one perceived problem, they changed part of the regulations,
not realizing the impact, which had to do with the fleet category
- the people who don't have individual days. And the consequences
of that change, which nobody thought about then are phenomenal and
a part of the capacity problem we're having now.
You can't think
of everything. You have to try to think and you need to be able
to have the time to think before you put in changes. That's part
of the problem with the current SFA, is that it doesn't allow anybody
time to think about anything. And you need to think about not only
these consequences but what those consequences are going to cost
and what those consequences are going to cost. At least that far.
And now, we barely get to think about the first.
When the stocks do rebuild themselves, what will be the most important
thing to do differently so that we don't get into the same dire
straits that we are in now?
fleet in general, although the areas that are closed are wrong -
those specific areas were closed because they were already down
on paper and we needed to do something quickly, other than changing
the boundaries of those areas, most of the offshore fleet does not
want to see them reopen because they believe that's the protection
that they need.
It's not a one-thing
situation. There are a broad number of things. I think we've learned
a lot form the cod crisis, for instance. Just because in a certain
area you still catch a phenomenal amount of fish doesn't mean the
stock is healthy. So we need to look at the broader picture. So
we need to do minor corrections earlier. That would probably be
my main point.
Is there anything that you care to add?
There are benefits
to the sacrifice if you can persevere. I keep track of dollars per
hour because we fish for money. And in the last two years, because
of the recovery of the stocks in Georges, our dollars per hour has
phenomenally increased, which is what you want to see out of management.
That's what you want from an industry point of view. But I know
this is a very, very difficult time for the boats in the harbor;
a very difficult time.