By Richard Gaines
---- — NOAA Regional Administrator John Bullard has agreed to extend a 10 percent carryover of uncaught fishing quota to the new fishing year — for all stocks except the Gulf of Maine cod, for which a carryover and potential bycatch would account for fishermen’s total catch under dire new catch limits due to take effect May 1.
With inshore cod catch limits slashed by 77 percent for the coming fishing year, a carryover of only 1.85 percent for that stock is anticipated, lest the additional quota legalize overfishing, NOAA officials say.
Last month, the New England Fishery Management Council set the acceptable biological catch of inshore cod at 1,550 metric tons, a volume so low that most fishermen and analysts expect to shut down their pursuit of the iconic New England fishery stock beginning May 1.
The additional 1.85 percent that Bullard announced last week was the exception he said he was required by law to make to avoid allowing overfishing amounts to 65 metric tons. Added to the 1,550 recommended by the council, an arm of NOAA that roughly approximates a regional fishery legislature without veto overide power, the carryover would give the industry 1,615 metric tons.
Bullard, the former New Bedford mayor who, in his current role, is based at NOAA’s building in Gloucester’s Blackburn Industrial Park, said in a prepared statement that he he was looking to maintain the rollover policy that had been in effect since the second year of catch share fishing in 2011.
“Current fishery management regulations allow up to 10 percent of unused quota to be carried forward,” said Bullard in the announcement on NOAA’s Northeast Regional Office website. “This provides fishermen with some flexibility on when they fish — so they can avoid bad weather and take advantage of times of year when fish are available and prices are highest.
”For all allocated groundfish stocks, except Gulf of Maine cod, where the stock remains in poor condition and there is a high risk of exceeding overfishing limits, we intend to continue to allow fishermen to carryover up to their full 10 percent unused quota in 2013,” he said. “For Gulf of Maine cod we intend to allow just under 2 percent carryover in 2013 to avoid a risk of exceeding the overfishing limit.
At the January council meeting, Vito Giacalone, executive director of the Gloucester Fishing Community Preservation Fund and the policy director for Northeast Seafood Coalition, said the 77 percent cut Gulf of Maine cod landings would be the death knell for the industry. Neither Giacalone nor Jackie Odell, a board members of the preservation fund and the executive director of the coalition, the region’s largest industry group, which is based in Gloucester, responded to telephone or written queries about Bullard’s announcement.
But at the council meeting in Portsmouth last month, Giacalone said, “(With) Gulf of Maine cod, there’s not enough to sustain the fishery. The game is over.”
The acting Secretary of Commerce, Rebecca Blank, in September, declared the groundfishery to be a socio-economic disaster based on existing and prospective conditions, but no economic aid was given to relieve the disaster. Last Thursday, Massachusetts Sens. Elizabeth Warren and William Cowan, along with 11 other senators from six other states, petitioned President Obama to fund the disaster declaration.
Congressman John Tierney, whose district includes Cape Ann, Massachusetts colleagues William Keating, Ed Markey and Stephen Lynch, and three other representatives also filed bipartisan House legislation to use import tariff revenues on seafood to fund disaster relief for one year, then shift the funding to the original purpose of the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act, and dedicate NOAA’s share of the tariffs for fisheries research and marketing.
Bullard also struck a nerve with fishermen last month when he announced that, along with the constrictions on landings, NOAA would no longer pick up the full cost of the agency’s embattled on-board monitoring program as it has since the 2010 onset of catch share fishing.
The regional administrator said NOAA did not have the budget to maintain the full subsidy, but would pick up 50 percent of the cost of the monitors, who cost about $6-7 million a year. The monitors are paid about $300 a trip, and are placed on about one out of three groundfishing trips.
Conservation Law Foundation senior counsel Peter Shelley has urged NOAA to close the fishery rather than allow it to limp or crawl along as a wiser long-term strategy.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at email@example.com.