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Conservation Groups Announce Steps to Restore New England Fish Populations

WASHINGTON, D.C. (January 22, 2002) - Five conservation groups today asked a federal judge to take steps they say will ultimately bring New England's depleted fishing grounds back to life. The steps are necessary, say experts, to rebuild collapsed groundfish populations and prevent future fish population declines.

The remedy request responds to a ruling by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on December 28th that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) defied Congress' mandate to conserve New England's valuable groundfish fishery, including cod, haddock, and flounder. According to economists, a healthy groundfish fishery could mean an extra $445 million a year for New England fishermen.

The five conservation groups -- the Conservation Law Foundation, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oceana, and The Ocean Conservancy - asked the judge to order the National Marine Fisheries Service to:

  1. REBUILD GROUNDFISH POPULATIONS: NMFS must put overfished populations back on the rebuilding track they would have been on but for NMFS' delay in implementing a 1999 rebuilding plan that was approved, but never implemented, by NMFS and the New England Fishery Management Council. Because it should have been implemented in November 1999, the groundfish rebuilding plan is now 2 years behind schedule. New management measures must be implemented in time for the start of the 2002/2003 fishery on May 1, 2002. NMFS should also implement a "hard" cap on the Total Allowable Catch for each groundfish stock.

    "These management measures may include regulating the number of days a vessel is allowed to fish; regulating the areas in which a vessel may fish; regulating the amount of fish a vessel can bring to the dock, or land, on any given trip; and so forth," explains the remedy request.

  2. REPORT KEPT AND DISCARDED CATCH: Develop a plan for the use of two-way electronic Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) to allow NMFS to track fishing vessels and to allow ship captains to email catch reports back to NMFS for real-time data management. Measure the extent and amount of discarded catch (bycatch) by placing observers on at least 10% of vessels during this fishing season.

  3. MINIMIZE DISCARDED CATCH: Develop and implement a comprehensive program to track and minimize wasted catch in the groundfish fisheries, as well as the groundfish thrown away in other fisheries.

"It is time to bring New England's legendary fishing grounds back to life," said Oceana attorney Eric Bilsky. "New England should be setting the standard for the nation's 107 commercial fisheries facing overfishing."

"NMFS will no longer be let off the hook," said Dr. Priscilla Brooks, director of the Conservation Law Foundation's Marine Resources Project. "The December ruling, combined with these remedies, are the first steps towards building and enforcing healthy, thriving fish stocks in New England."

"We hope that NMFS will finally be required to take the simple steps Congress required in 1996 to track and reduce the horrendous waste of groundfish that are simply thrown back into the sea," stated Brad Sewell, senior project attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"Target catch levels for New England groundfish are routinely exceeded with no immediate consequence. This has led to serious overfishing of Gulf of Maine cod for six years running," remarked Sonja Fordham, a Fish Conservation Project Manager for The Ocean Conservancy who has monitored New England fisheries management for more than ten years. "Hard quotas offer an essential backstop to ensure that target catch levels are not exceeded in the event that other measures do not control fishing as planned."

"The government itself says this fishery is 'in extremely dire condition,'" said Marlyn Twitchell, an attorney with the National Audubon Society. "We can turn that assessment around in just a few years if these steps are taken."

More information and related documents are available at www.oceana.org.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Founded in 1966, the Conservation Law Foundation is a nonprofit, member-supported organization that uses law, economics and science to design and implement strategies to conserve natural resources, protect public health, and promote vital communities in New England. It has regional advocacy centers in Boston; Montpelier, Vermont; Concord, New Hampshire; and Rockland, Maine.

Oceana, whose Ocean Law Project is lead counsel on this case, is a new non-profit, international advocacy organization created with the sole purpose of protecting the world's oceans to sustain the circle of life. Oceana brings together dedicated people from around the world, building an international movement to save the oceans through public policy advocacy, science and economics, legal action, grassroots mobilization, and public education.

The Ocean Conservancy is the largest national nonprofit organization committed solely to protecting ocean environments and conserving the global abundance and diversity of marine life. Through science-based advocacy, research, and public education, The Ocean Conservancy seeks to inform, inspire and empower people to speak and act for the oceans. Headquartered in Washington, DC with more than 900,000 members and volunteers, The Ocean Conservancy has regional offices in Alaska, California, Florida, and New England and field offices in Alaska, California, Florida and New England and field offices in Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz, CA, Florida Keys, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Founded in 1905 and supported by over 550,000 members in over 500 chapters throughout the Americas, the National Audubon Society conserves and restores natural ecosystems, focusing on birds and other wildlife for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity.

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