The Fishery Conservation and Management Act was passed in 1976. This act created the National Marine Fisheries Service (as part of NOAA) and established a 200-mile fishery conservation zone. Its function is to insure sustainability in the fishing industry by establishing a fishing capacity reduction program and promoting research on fishery management, thereby insuring sustainability.
The NMFS, to insure stability, has put limits/quotas on the amount of each species that each commercial fishing boat can harvest, much to the chagrin of the fishermen. To no one’s surprise, many fishermen blame the NMFS for reducing their income and forcing their colleagues out of business. But what are fishermen really to blame for dwindling fish
In 2012, NOAA allowed commercial fishermen to catch 6,700 metric tons of cod, 1.1 million pounds of flounder and 9,000 metric tons of haddock (2010 figures) in the Gulf of Maine. This translates to 97,643 pounds per day, a considerable amount. Hold that thought.
In the 1960’s, it was estimated that there were approximately 10,000 seals remaining in the Gulf of Maine, the primary species being gray (880 pounds), harp (300 pounds), hooded (440 pounds) and harbor(245 pounds). Seal weights are from NOAA.
As a result of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, all seals became protected, and the population has conservatively increased to 100,000 in the Gulf of Maine. The penalty for killing a protected marine mammal is $100,000 and up to 1 year in jail.
A seal can eat up to 8 percent of its body weight per day. If you multiply 100,000 x .08 x an average weight of 500 pounds, then seals in the Gulf of Maine can consume up to 4 million pounds of fish per day -- considerably more than what fishermen are catching. Even if you take a conservative estimate and assume the average seal weight is 250 pounds, that figure becomes 2 million pounds of fish per day, still considerably more than what is allocated to cod, flounder and haddock fishermen.
It appears the unintended consequences of protecting seals doesn’t end with depleted fish stocks. Cape Cod in 2012 experienced its first shark attack (from a great white) in 75 years. According to Greg Skomal, a marine biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, “Sharks like to eat seals and because the gray seal population has really grown dramatically in the last couple of years, they’re targeting them.”
As a result of protecting seals, fishing stocks are being depleted, sharks are being attracted to family beaches and some fishermen are going out of business.
John Tommasi of Windham is senior lecturer of economics and director of the Academic Learning Center at Bentley University in Waltham. Contact him at johntommasi.com.