Council passes new catch limits in New England

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The New England Fishery Management Council approved a year-to-year cut of 77 percent on the Gulf of Maine cod limit and 61 percent for Georges Bank cod on Wednesday.

The cuts come on top of a slew of other reductions, ranging from 10 to 71 percent, on the catch of other bottom-dwelling groundfish species, such as haddock and flounder, according to the Associated Press.

Fishermen say they’re now staring at an industry collapse because they’ve been left with far too few fish for most boats to make a living.

The cuts, in effect May 1, are expected to be backed by federal managers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA’s top federal fisheries regulator, John Bullard, acknowledged that the reductions will be devastating, but he told the AP that fish stocks are struggling.

The cuts hit an industry that was crucial to the nation’s early economy and remains a treasured piece of New England culture.

An economic analysis by the council projected that the cuts will reduce overall groundfish revenue by 33 percent, from about $90 million in 2011 to about $60 million in 2013, but fishermen said the projection is far too optimistic.

Fishermen have consistently disputed the accuracy of the science that drives regulation and that indicates the stocks are in bad shape. And they noted that the industry has generally fished at or below levels recommended by science in recent years, but the advice has proved wrong.

Maggie Raymond, of the Associated Fisheries of Maine, said some boats in her group will try to hang on by targeting healthy but less valuable stocks of redfish and pollock, which she said boats should be able to reach without hitting too much of the protected cod. Others won’t make it, she said.

As the fleet shrinks, related jobs, such as fish processors, will be lost and infrastructure will disappear from the valuable waterfront properties in local ports, she said.

Gib Brogan, of the environmental group Oceana, said too many boats have been chasing too few fish for too long. Industry downsizing is actually “right-sizing,” he said, and when those fish come back in greater numbers the industry will figure out how to benefit.

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