Filed Under: Seafood

Fishy, fishy figures

The Boston Globe reported on Thursday that the equipment used by the federal government to count fish populations in the waters off New England has been unreliable for at least the last two years. Globe reporters Beth Daley and Gareth Cook write that government scientists carrying out a “fish census” have routinely failed to properly calibrate the net lines on their research boat, resulting in “an overly dire picture of the fish population.”

One member of the New England Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC), herself a fishing boat owner, told the Globe that this latest news “calls into question all of [the scientists’] work so far. We don’t know what else could be wrong.”

This news comes just a month after a federal judge, using numbers generated by the same scientists, decreed that many New England fishermen must reduce their number of fishing days by 20 to 50 percent. Now that decision appears ill-informed and arbitrary. Another disappointed NEFMC member told the Globe that the faulty data “is being used to make very serious decisions about people’s lives.”

“Conservation mandates” supported by federal science figures (like the ones in New England) have been used for many years by environmental organizations to justify boycotts on various fish species destined for the dinner table. SeaWeb, a Washington, DC green group, tried to engineer a ban on Atlantic swordfish just four years ago. This year’s fishy target is Chilean Sea Bass, via a campaign organized by the National Environmental Trust and wholly funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

On Saturday, the Associated Press reported that the feds have completely banned commercial trawling in most of the oceans in the Pacific Northwest. This new mandate, which the AP calls “the strictest regulation ever of West Coast fishing,” is based on – you guessed it – a federal “fish census.”

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