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Scallopers: Feds must rework yellowtail assessment

By Jay Lindsay
Associated Press / July 19, 2012
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BOSTON—A scallop industry group is calling on fishing regulators to overhaul their method for estimating the troubled yellowtail flounder's population, saying it's arbitrary and indefensible.

The Fisheries Survival Fund made the request in a July 13 letter to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Northeast fisheries science chief, William Karp.

Yellowtail in Georges Bank is managed jointly by the U.S. and Canada. The flagging health of the yellowtail population sparked a massive cut in catch this year -- 50 percent overall and 80 percent for fishermen who chase other bottom-dwelling groundfish, such as cod.

Similarly onerous cuts are expected next year, and fishermen worry that will ruin the local groundfishing industry and damage the prosperous scallop fleet.

Scallopers accidentally snare yellowtail in their dredges, so they get a portion of the annual yellowtail allotment. They're affected by the ever-tightening catch restrictions, since they can't exceed their yellowtail limit without serious penalty.

The Fisheries Survival Fund is an influential voice for scallop boat operators and owners, who are primarily based in New Bedford, New Jersey and Virginia. In their letter, the scallopers argue a computer model used in yellowtail population estimates has proven useless by consistently producing inaccurate projections. But it said NOAA has just kept tinkering with the flawed model.

"(The agency) needs to redirect its limited resources away from the computer models and towards field research," they wrote.

"If there are to be cuts in the fishery, so be it, but it must be done in an open and justified manner," the letter said.

In its closing paragraph, the fund wrote, "We cannot and will not sit back passively and accept catch advice that is based upon an indefensible and ultimately arbitrary assessment."

In a statement, Karp said the yellowtail's poor condition over the past decade has frustrated attempts to make confident projections about the species.

He said the uncertainty about the yellowtail has been widely and publicly discussed. But he said the yellowtail assessment is a joint effort, and the U.S. wouldn't try to unilaterally change it.

"Some admittedly tough decisions will have to be made by U.S. and Canadian fishery managers in the fall in order to set 2013 quotas," he said.

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