GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

April 29, 2013

Boston rally urges 11th-hour reprieve for fishermen

By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer

---- — BOSTON — At the northeast corner of the Boston Fish Pier, not far from an unloading boat, Massachusetts’ elected leaders from the U.S. Senate and House and lawmakers from the State House came together in an 11th hour rally to convince the White House or the outgoing acting Secretary of Commerce to overrule the leaders of NOAA and grant a regulatory reprieve to the Northeast grroundfishry.

Barring the extraordinary, draconian cuts in landings for the 2013 fishing season will take effect on Wednesday — May 1, the start of the new fishing year.

Cuts in landings of Gulf of Maine Cod, the lifeline for the inshore fleet based in Gloucester, would be 77 percent of this year’s allocation. Landings of cod and yellowtail in offshore Georges Bank would be cut by more than 60 percent, paralyzing the fleet from New Bedford.

It was Attorney General Martha Coakley, a leading advocate for the fishing industry along with Gov. Deval Patrick who put it directly to NOAA’s Gloucester-based Northeast regional administrator while addressing the 300-400 fishermen present as well.

“I hope, Mr. Bullard,” she said, speaking beneath a big canvas tent, “that you can take the ‘no’ out of NOAA.”

John Bullard, who stood in the audience that numbered about 250 people, told the Times moments later he has heard nothing from higher authorities, so “the course hasn’t changed.” NOAA, however, has still not posted on the Federal Register the catch limits for groundfish for the 2013 fishing year.

The rally was organized last week by the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, the region’s largest industry group, with the hope of convincing the White House to overrule NOAA General Counsel Lois Schiffer and Bullard and grant the industry certain reprieves from the dire cuts in landings — reprieves that Schiffer contends are illegal in an unreleased legal memorandum to Bullard.

“Just put it on hold,” said Coakley, who wrote the governor last week indicating that NOAA could legally grant a second year of interim relief to the industry. Gov. Patrick wrote to Coakley last Friday that he had taken the case to Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to and close friend of President Obama.

The event came off under the high anxiety for an industry facing desolation even as reports continue to come up that the fish, were returning in encouraging numbers.

Richie Canastra, treasurer of the seafood coalition and co-owner of the region’s largest fish auction, said he has heard from a number of fishermen on Georges Bank even this morning that concentrations of yellowtail flounder was plentiful.

“We’re into our second full year of unfavorable conditions,” said Vito Giacalone, who is an official of the Gloucester Fishing Community Preservation Fund and the coalition, “and if history repeasts itself, like it almost always does, catch rates will begin to tick up very soon and we will be climbing to a period of high catch rates but the quotas will have been set at record lows.”

We will update this story later today here at gloucestertimes.com as more information becomes available.

To have text updates regarding this story and other local breaking news coverage sent to your mobile phone, just sign up for the Times’ free text-alert service on the gloucestertimes.com homepage. For more up-to-date coverage, follow the Times news team on Facebook or on Twitter.com@gdtnews.

For full coverage, look to tomorrow’s print and online editions of the Gloucester Daily Times and gloucestergimes.com.

Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at rgaines@gloucestertimes.com.