The big boys wont let it happen?
Fish regulators say no thanks to N.J. trawling research
By JACK KASKEY Staff Writer, (609) 272-7213, E-Mail
Federal fishing regulators have rejected New Jersey-funded trawl research that suggested the government might
be under estimating fish populations.
Each spring and fall, the National Marine Fisheries Service trawls the ocean bottom for fish, using the catch to
estimate how many fish are in the sea. Those estimates are used to set regulations for commercial and
New Jersey fishermen have long suspected the government boats undercount some of their favorite fish, so last
year they raised about $150,000 in state and private money to research their theory.
The research plan, developed by Eric Powell, director of Rutgers University's Haskin Shellfish Research Laboratory
in Bivalve, Cumberland County, involved trawling beside a government boat during the spring and fall surveys.
Powell's side-by-side trawls aboard the commercial boat Jason & Danielle landed far more fish than the regulators.
Last spring's catch of summer flounder, for instance, was 55 times what the NMFS boat caught. The porgy catch
also was multiple times larger.
But NMFS won't be using the data in its population estimates, said Michael P. Sissenwine, director of the NMFS
Northeast Fisheries Service Science Center in Woods Hole, Mass.
Sissenwine said the research was rushed and lacked all the "success factors" that are required for cooperative
research to be successful. One of those factors is a true collaboration between scientists and fishermen on the
study's objectives, planning, implementation and analysis.
"The hurry-up approach lacked proper planning for success," Sissenwine said Tuesday. "There have to be realistic
expectations about the feasible outcomes, about what the data means and what we are hoping to achieve."
There have never been clear, realistic and shared expectations, he said.
"The mere fact that a commercial vessel with a much bigger net catches more fish is not a surprise to anybody,"
Sissenwine said. "It's hard to assess the value of the data they've gathered so far."
Rutgers researchers had hoped to replicate last year's side-by-side trawls this year, but they didn't present their
proposal until March, when the NMFS spring survey was beginning.
"There simply was not enough planning in advance to make this thing successful," Sissenwine said.
Powell did not return a telephone call left Monday at his Haskin lab.
Recreational fishermen are upset that NMFS has rejected New Jersey's research, said James A. Donofrio, executive
director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance.
"This was put together by some of the best scientists we have in New Jersey" Donofrio said. "For him to dismiss
that and say it wasn't done properly, that's a lot of hogwash."
NMFS regulations affect jobs in the commercial and recreational sectors, yet the agency doesn't seem interested in
research that could improve their population estimates, he said.
"They are using a lot of voodoo," Donofrio said.
Dan Cohen, owner of commercial docks in Cape May and Point Pleasant Beach, said commercial fishermen are
disappointed the research won't be going ahead this year, but the industry is committed to future research
projects with NMFS.
Sissenwine said his agency is a strong advocate of cooperative research. He even testified before Congress on the
issue last December.
NMFS previously has engaged in cooperative research that resulted in management changes for scallops, monkfish,
surf clams and ocean quahogs, he said.
Nothing prevents New Jersey's trawl research from resuming next year, he said.
"I have no doubt that if we got good data, it would be used in stock assessments," Sissenwine said.
Last year's research cost about $150,000 in state and private money. The state portion came from the New Jersey
Fisheries Information and Development Center, which was created last year with a $500,000 budget. The private
portion came from the National Fisheries Institute's Scientific Monitoring Committee, a seafood industry group
chaired by Cohen.