GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

November 4, 2012

Fish council eyes December for '13 limits

By Richard Gaines Staff Writer
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — The New England Fishery Management Council has set a special one-day meeting Dec. 20 to take final action on most groundfish allocations for the 2013 fishing year that begins May 1, and take near final action on Framework 48 which updates and refines Amendment 16 and its catch share maagement system.

The special meeting was spun off the November council meeting set for Newport, R.I., due to the welter of issues.

Excluded from the December agenda will be allocations of Gulf of Maine Cod, which will not be decided until January at the earliest, when a special assessment of the essential inshore groundfish is expected.

The catch limits will be the first set since the Commerce Department declared the Northeast groundfishery to have collapsed into a disaster.

Groundfish catch limits are certain to be significantly lower in general, with Gulf of Maine cod, the most important target for the day boat fleet, depending on a special benchmark assessment which was ordered in the furor that followed the 2011 benchmark assessment. The 2011 assessment showed the stock recovering much more slowly than found in a 2008 assessment that had served as the guideline for larger takings.

The 2012 catch limits were reduced by 22 percent for inshore cod by the unprecedented use — available for one time only — of emergency powers discovered in the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

The future of the inshore cod fishery is far from the only pivotal decision facing the council. Updated assessments delivered earlier this year project to dramatic cutbacks in catch limits for many offshore stocks — reductions ranging from 43-75 percent.

The council holds its previously scheduled meeting on all issues other than groundfish Nov. 13-15 in Newport, R.I.

The special Dec. 20 groundfish meeting will be held at the Sheraton Colonial in Wakefield. A detailed agenda will be published at the end of November.

“Coordination among the Council’s various technical teams, the range of issues to be addressed, including at-sea monitoring, groundfish catch limits for 2013 and measures intended to minimize the economic impacts on the fleet caused by reductions in short-term allocations, all have contributed to the need for extra time to complete the analyses that will support decision-making,” said Patricia Fiorelli, spokeswoman for the council, an arm of NOAA.

Framework 48 issues the Council is likely to approve in November are the allocations of Georges Bank and Southern New/Mid-Atlantic yellowtail flounder to the scallop fishery, and possibly that fishery’s allocation of Southern New/Mid-Atlantic windowpane flounder.

The yellowtail flounder allocation is expected to be divisive, owing to the shortage of yellowtail and their concentration in and among scallops.

At its September meeting, the council signaled a willingness to consider allowing fishermen into areas of the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank that, through conservation efforts and attempts to grow the stocks, have been off limits for many years.

The council asked its Plan Development Team of technicians and fishery scientists to report at the council’s November meeting on the likely results of giving fishermen access to a narrow sliver of the Western Gulf of Maine Closed Area and large parts of Closed Areas One and Two in Georges.

But the step taken last month at the council meeting in Plymouth was considered pivotal — and highly controversial. If the council, NOAA’s regional arm of industry appointees and state officials who debate and recommend policy, takes the definitive step next month, fishermen facing certain reductions in catch limits for the fishing year beginning May 1 would have access to inshore and offshore waters that have not been harvested since the late 1990s.

The recreational sector, which has been able to fish the closed areas while they’ve been off limits to the commercial fleet, has made clear it would like to keep things that way.

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