As New England fisheries officials negotiate the finer points of a new groundfish management plan, Massachusetts voters appear firmly behind proposals to change the days-at-sea regulation scheme to one that uses community-based, fishermen-run cooperatives to monitor and limit cod, flounder and haddock fishing.
A poll released yesterday by the Pew Environment Center shows that 70 per cent of Bay State voters are in favor of the catch-limit plan, and more than a third are strongly in favor of this so-called sectors approach, on the basis they will take a science-based approach to preventing waste and overfishing and rebuilding stocks of threatened species.
Support for dealing with New England’s shrinking fish stocks is consistent across demographic groups, whether they live near the sea or inland, whether they eat seafood or not, according to the executive summary of the survey. Most voters were aware of the problem before being called, and nine out of 10 of those think it is important something be done about it.
People were driven by their desire that future generations be able “to enjoy delicious and healthful native wild fish.”
“The fear that their children might wind up deprived of fish like cod, haddock and flounder is clearly a concern,” the report summary states.
The survey was conducted by telephone among a random sample of 375 adults in Massachusetts and an equal number in Maine.
When told the current days-at-sea approach often results in the dumping of hundreds of pounds of fish, respondents became more supportive of a new approach. A majority responded favorably to community-based cooperatives. “Moreover, voters want to see the same science-based species-specific standards that govern the cooperatives applied to fishermen who have not joined a cooperative as well,” the summary noted.
A plurality in both states surveyed said government entities are the most trusted sources of information on fisheries. Less than a third perceived government regulation as a problem, but rather as an honest broker between sometimes conflicting information given by fishermen and environmentalists.
Democrats and independents alike were more likely than Republicans to be aware of the problem, to consider the problem serious and to consider it a priority to address, the poll said.
The support comes as the New England Fishery Management Council is holding public hearings on its new sectors scheme, which creates catch limits for fishermen, based on science. Federal and regional fisheries managers will vote on adopting sector management and annual catch limits for the groundfish fishery late this month.
Peter Baker, the New England fisheries campaign manager for the Pew Environment Group, said yesterday that the survey indicated that the general public, people who do not make their living from commercial fishing, nevertheless have strong opinions about fisheries management.
“With the vote coming up in June critical for future of groundfish industry, we felt that elected officials probably will make better decisions if they know what voters think,” Mr. Baker said in an interview.
He said that while it was likely the sectors plan would be approved, it was critical that everyone — whether they joined a sector or not — should be monitored and held to catch and bycatch limits that were the same as those in the sector.
“The questions will be, will the monitoring program be for everyone, and will everyone have to stay within limits,” said Mr. Baker.