Fishermen who attended a meeting Monday in Point Judith about upcoming groundfish stock assessments are unhappy with the data collection process for those assessments.
Federal regulators use data collected by fishermen and scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries to assess the health of fish species and set limits on how many fish can be taken from the sea. Those limits are intended to protect against overfishing.
The Northeast Fisheries Science Center, the research arm of NOAA Fisheries in the region, talked with commercial and recreational fishermen as a part of a series of port outreach meetings to hear fishermen's concerns and to figure out how the science center could work to address them.
Patrick Duckworth, a commercial fisherman who attended the meeting, said regulators are using bad scientific methods to collect data and set fishing limits.
Duckworth said regulators should rely on fishermen, not other sources like biologists who observe fishing operations, to determine the status of groundfish.
“A fisherman has to go out to catch the fish to make a paycheck, so who’s going to know better where the fish are?” Duckworth said.
During the meeting, fishermen said regulators aren't keeping up with changing fish populations and are setting catch limits too low. One example that was given is the boom in the black sea bass population and how fishermen are forced to throw much of it overboard.
Duckworth said low fishing quotas mean less money, which makes it harder to make a living in the industry.
John Hoey, deputy branch chief for the cooperative research program for the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, said fishermen have legitimate concerns, but fishermen and regulators need to work together to modernize the data collection process.
"I think the only thing (fishermen and regulators) can do to keep up (with the changing fish populations) and keep real time is to go with electronic reporting, to work with the field agents and the people that are out there (collecting data) so we can speed up the base information we need to collect to do our analyses," Hoey said.
The science center's next meeting will be in Montauk, New York Wednesday. The final two meetings will be in Portsmouth, New Hampshire Sept. 6 and Plymouth, Massachusetts Sept. 7.