January 31, 2013

Big cuts in catch bring 'sad day' for fishermen

New England fishermen say their industry is facing collapse after regulators lower quotas to rebuild cod and other stocks.

By Jessica Hall jhall@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – Fishermen say drastic catch limits endorsed by regulators Wednesday will destroy New England's groundfishing industry.

click image to enlarge

Jim Odlin, who owns three fishing boats out of Portland, questions fishery scientists after their presentation at the New England Fishery Management Council meeting Wednesday in Portsmouth, N.H.

Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Fishermen listen to scientists and regulators during the New England Fishery Management Council meeting in Portsmouth, N.H. Many fishermen oppose lower catch limits, but advocates argue they are critical to preserving the future of fish stocks.

Maine Fishery Landings
Explore Maine fishery landings from 1950 to 2011 by clicking the image below.

In its most dramatic move yet to protect dwindling stocks of cod, the New England Fishery Management Council passed a 77 percent reduction in the catch limit for Gulf of Maine cod.

The council's decision, which is expected to be backed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, cuts the annual catch for Gulf of Maine cod to 1,550 metric tons for the next three years, down from 6,700 metric tons in the past year.

The council also approved a cut of 55 percent for cod on Georges Bank, to 2,506 metric tons a year for three years.

The catch limits are set to take effect May 1, the start of the 2013 fishing year.

"This ruling will put many fishermen out of business," said Angelo Ciocca, president of Nova Seafood in Portland and part-owner of a few fishing vessels. "This is the end of the Gulf of Maine fishing industry. It's a sad day for New England, it's a sad day for fishing and it's a sad day for the country."

Fishermen who attended the hearing held by the fishery management council Wednesday said the limits are based on flawed science.

Paul Vitale, who fishes off Gloucester, Mass., said he would rather see the groundfishing industry shut down while studies are done than let it limp along with severe catch limits.

"The economic disaster that's coming doesn't need to happen," he said. "I'll be going bankrupt. That's the plan."

Chris Chadwick, who fishes off Gloucester and Marblehead, Mass., said reducing the cod quotas hurts his family.

"All I'm trying to do is support my family. Reducing the quotas reduces my child's ability to go to college," said Chadwick, who said his family has been fishing since 1860. "What job out there today is going to support my family?"

The sharp reduction in catch limits has created significant tension between fishermen, scientists and regulators who are struggling to rebuild fisheries that are central to New England's history and economy.

Ben Martens, manager of the Port Clyde sector and executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen's Association, said fishermen are understandably worried, but all involved know that something must be done.

"The stocks aren't there, based on what they are seeing," Martens said.

Maggie Raymond, executive director of the Associated Fishermen of Maine, a trade association of 25 active fishing vessels plus supporting industries, said regulators have to worry about the long-term picture as much as the short-term.

"In the short term, fishing communities will suffer from the reductions," Raymond said. "If the collective goal is to rebuild stocks ... then if we don't start looking at the causes of the problem, we are not going to find a solution."

Raymond said offshore vessels that make multi-day trips may have more options by fishing for species such as pollock or red fish, but those fish often fetch lower prices than cod, making it difficult to cover a boat's expenses.

"It's difficult to see how you're going to cover $3.50-a-gallon gas if you're getting a 60-cent return on pollock," Raymond said. "I don't know what these men are going to do for other work."

The Associated Press reported that the new limits on cod will prevent fishermen from landing more plentiful species, such as haddock and pollock, because fishermen can't pull up those healthier groundfish without catching too much of the cod that swim among them.

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