Interesting Times at NOAA

These guys are pretty busy.

I live!  Thanksgiving break lead into one of the busiest academic times I’ve ever had.  When I was working on my Master’s, I used to think PhD Comics were hyperbole, that there was no way it could be that bad.  Now that I’m actually in a PhD program, I know that things can be much worse.  Thanks for your patience as I dig myself out from under the end of the semester.  But enough about me…

Some interesting things have been happening with the chief fisheries management agency in the U.S.  On the bright side, NOAA released its scientific integrity policy, which allows its scientists to speak openly to the public without fear of reprisal.  This is a healthy reversal from the Bush years, when scientists speaking about their findings regarding politically charged topics like climate change could find themselves muzzled.  NOAA is heavily involved in climate change, but also receives a lot of press for fisheries management.  In both of these fields, giving scientists the ability to speak their minds is a good thing; these are complex issues and much of the distrust of this agency comes from the impression that it is a monolithic, faceless bureaucracy with questionable motives.  Allowing scientists to interact openly with the public may help soften these divisions.

NOAA scientists may find themselves needing that public interaction, or trying to avoid it, very soon.  After the stock assessment of 2008 painted a rosy picture of recovery for the Gulf of Maine cod stock, the most recent assessment has pegged the recovery at only 20% of what it should be, leading to potential action ranging from severe cuts in the cod quota (possibly 90%!) to a total shutdown of the fishery.  This can potentially affect every groundfisherman in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.  Because all species in the groundfish fishery tend to school together, fishermen targeting haddock or flounder can end up catching unacceptable numbers of cod as bycatch, bringing the hammer of fishery reductions or closures down on themselves.  Cod out on Georges Bank are not so bad off and can still be fished, but nearshore fishermen with smaller vessels will have trouble getting out there.  I echo J.P.‘s sentiment that I’m glad to not be the head population biologist in this situation.

Highs and lows for NOAA these days.  They’ll certainly be staying busy.


  1. John Lee · December 12, 2011

    From what I hear in New England, the problems with the Fisheries Service are still one of communication, communication between the Science Center in Woods Hole and the Regional Office in Gloucester. I’ve heard head scientists speak with clear irritation when referring to policy makers. I hear they do a far better job with this on the West Coast. Maybe the West Coast really is ten years ahead of the East Coast when it comes to fishery management–but much of New England’s trouble is one of ecology, as you pointed out: cod, haddock, pollock and half a dozen species of flounders all live roughly or exactly on the same piece of bottom. And otter trawls and gillnets are simply not species selective enough to separate them. That causes a problem, a problem in need of open communication with a good and fearless leader who has the final say in what to do.

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