The New England Fishery Management Council voted Wednesday night to cut the Gulf of Maine cod fishery limits by 77 percent for the 2013 fishing cycle and to extend similar cuts for the 2014 and 2015, dealing a dire blow to the region’s fishing industry.
Over many hours of anguished debate at the council meeting in Portsmouth, N.H., the action was widely read as ending any direct fishing for a stock that has supported the inshore fleet since colonial times, while asphyxiating small ports and putting larger ones such as Gloucester under unprecedented duress. The council voted to cut the cod allocation for the Georges Bank grounds by 66 percent as well.
Council staff showed charts suggesting revenues from all ports, including Gloucester, as dropping by about one third. But council members and fishermen including Gloucester’s Joe Orlando and Paul Vitale scoffed at the estimates and said the fishermen doubted they would be able to fish at all.
The council opted for an acceptable biological catch of 1,550 metric tons, choosing overwhelmingly the relatively higher option presented by the council’s Science and Statistical Committee. But as Councilor Goug Grout of New Hampshire noted, the additional 300 tons to the lower recommendation by the SSC was slightly more than his state’s small cohort of boats land in a year, and either number will mark “the end of the fishery.”
The “day of reckoning,” in the words of John Bullard, NOAA’s Gloucester-based, northeast regional administrator, has been decades arriving, and was brought about by a shortage of fish, he said.
Why this should be so became a sub-theme of the day, with the phrase “regime shift” used frequently to suggest a braid of environmental and ecological alterations —including millions of lobster traps that take an unknown quantity of cod as by-catch, large volumes of herring which eat cod eggs and seals which feed on cod, as well as the various forms of global warming that emanate from and absorb into the seas.