The Magnuson-Stevens Act that governs U.S. fisheries management calls for regulations to be based on "best available science" - a fuzzy and moving target. New technologies and new research are constantly reworking our understanding of ocean ecosystems and the fisheries they support.
Here are three new or pending initiatives that could shape fishery regulations of the future:
- NOAA announced this week that researchers will, for the first time, attempt to tag and sample adult gray seals on Cape Cod. Hunted to near extinction, seal populations have rebounded since the Marine Mammal Protection Act went into effect. That's been a sore spot for some fishermen, who contend the large predators impact fish populations and interfere with fishing. The new research is intended to improve our understanding of the basic biology and ecology of gray seals.
- The Gloucester Daily Times recently reported on fishery science in the draft 2014 state budget. The Gloucester Genomics Initiative would "identify and sequence the genetic code of groundfish such as cod, allowing scientists to determine among other mysteries whether the inshore (Gulf of Maine) and offshore (Georges Bank) fish are one or separate stocks." Both House and Senate version of the budget include $200,000 for the initiative, so prospects seem good.
- A project that would investigate sonar technology as an alternative or complement to traditional stock assessement methods faces a less certain future. Attorney General Martha Coakley has called on lawmakers to fund the project, but a joint committee will have to reconcile a $275,000 disparity in funding proposed by the House and Senate.
The entire budget of NOAA costs each American about five cents a day. How much is fishery science worth to you?
And don't forget to take our poll - tell us where your priorities are when it comes to New England's fisheries.