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May 30, 2013

Confronting a crisis: Fishermen shift focus; Tierney renews push for federal aid

Nearly a month into a groundfishing year of crushing limitations — with cod landings off by 84 percent at Gloucester’s leading auction, and boat captains laying off family crew and selling homes to keep their boats afloat — Congressman John Tierney Wednesday expressed disappointment that the White House has “not done more” to help relieve the groundfishing industry disaster the administration acknowledged last September.

Tierney’s renewed push for aid comes with fishermen are taking desperate measures to avoid landing a year’s allocation of a single stock in a single tow, thereby forcing themselves off the water for the rest of the year, which just began May 1.

The allowable catch across the suite of most desired stocks were slashed by more than 50 percent.

Joe Orlando, captain of the mid-sized dragger Padre Pio and president of the 35-boat Gloucester trawl sector, was modifying his nets to keep them closer to the bottom as he shifts his fishing focus from the iconic cod and haddock to dabs -- smallest of the flatfish, which burrow in the sand and mud of the Gulf of Maine.

He and the rest of the day boat fishermen preparing for the bittersweet opening June 1 of hundreds of nautical miles of water that was closed to fishing through May.

In previous years, the opening of the closed areas was a joyous time for the fleet of day boats. But with cod landings reduced by 78 percent based on a confidential NOAA legal opinion, and other desirable stocks under unprecedented tight limits, the fish that can be taken from the newly opened water is severely constrained.

”You gotta be careful,” said Orlando. “I’ve got an allocation of only 1,600 pounds of haddock; I could do that in one day, and then I’m through.”

In a letter to President Obama’s chief of staff, Dennis R. McDonough, Tierney, the Salem Democrat whose district includes Gloucester, asked the White House to support his bill to fund disaster relief with one year of the designated revenue stream equal to 30 percent of tariffs on imported seafood — a figure estimated at $100 million.

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