October 29, 2021

Moulton's Trawl Task Force wins $500K to count groundfish

In New England, the livelihoods of 34,000 people depend on one answer: How many fish are in the sea?

As the second busiest port in the state, Gloucester is home to 436 permitted commercial fish harvesters and 446 commercial fishing vessels, according to a 2021 report by the state’s Division of Marine Fisheries.

To get a more accurate count of the fish, U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton’s Groundfish Trawl Task Force has received a $500,000 federal grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The grant will assist the task force in conducting research that will lead to new data that NOAA scientists and fishermen hope will more accurately measure the fish population.“When I took office, I was told I had to make a choice: stand with the fishermen or the environmentalists. I thought that was crazy because both want—and fishermen need— a sustainable fishery. So instead, we rallied both groups around getting better science, and that is exactly what this historic partnership has produced,” Moulton said in a prepared statement. “This work will protect the livelihoods of thousands of people, it will protect our ocean, and it will preserve New England’s identity as a place where people can make a living fishing.”

Formed in 2015, Moulton’s task force aims to build consensus between the scientific community that conducts research which informs commercial fishing regulations and the commercial fishermen who are most affected by those regulations.

With the money gifted from NOAA, the task force will be able to explore whether NOAA can get a better count of how many fish are present in waters fished by commercial fishermen by separating the data of the two research vessels NOAA used to conduct the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s trawl survey; determine how many groundfish are present in the areas of the ocean where they are known to live but can be challenging to sample with traditional approaches such as trawl surveys; and collect data on how many fish are caught by fishermen and compare that information to the trawl surveys that NOAA conducts.

By collecting data, the team aims to determine the degree to which the trawl surveys overlap with where key groundfish stocks are caught in the Gulf of Maine.

“As America’s Oldest Seaport, Gloucester has been proud to partner with Congressman Seth Moulton and our fishermen so that we can find commonsense solutions to benefit the entire fishing industry,” Gloucester’s Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken said. “Our partnerships agree that we must continue to collaborate together, especially around sustainable solutions that will benefit us all.”

The results of the work that is now funded have major implications for New England’s commercial fishermen, a release from the state read.

Government regulations that dictate how many groundfish commercial fishermen can catch are based on estimates of the groundfish population, including Atlantic cod, haddock, and flounder. Those estimates are currently calculated by combining decades of data from two research vessels that sporadically trawl the ocean and judge a species’ health based on what they catch. For decades, commercial fishermen have criticized the method as an archaic, inaccurate approach that leaves their financial security up to chance.

Moulton and his team worked with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., to secure funding for the research with an amendment to a Senate appropriation bill late last year.

By:  Taylor Ann Bradford
Source: Gloucester Daily Times