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April 3, 2013

Lawmakers push to ease fish limits

Citing widespread evidence of an abundance of important commercial in shore fish stocks — and a scientific study that found flaws in the modeling methods used by the government to set catch limits — a contingent of state lawmakers led by Senate President Therese Murray is urging NOAA’s top fisheries official to delay dire cuts planned for May 1 and allow the fleet reasonable access to stocks while new studies are conducted into the vitality of the Gulf of Maine ecosystem.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, both of Gloucester, were among the 24 signers of a letter sent Monday and released to the Times Tuesday addressed to Samuel D. Rauch III, the acting administer of fisheries at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The lawmakers emphasized to Rauch that a compelling legal case exists for the government to institute a second year of interim catch limits on Gulf of Maine cod, now in line for a 77 percent cut in landings based on a decision by Regional Administrator John Bullard and supported by a legal brief by the general counsel for NOAA that has been withheld from the public.

A delegation from Congress, the New England Fisheries Regional Council and the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition have all argued to Bullard in writing that the Magnuson-Stevens Act allows a second year of interim measures which would reduce but not eliminate overfishing,

The council is an arm of NOAA, comprised of 17 members. The coalition is the region’s largest industry group, representing about two thirds of the commercial fishing businesses, boats and shore-side.

Behind the letter, the authors wrote, is evidence in data supplied by the NOAA Fisheries Social Science Branch, reported by the Times in recent days, as well as reports by Gloucester’s two major auction houses of a “notable concentrations” of cod on Stellwagen Bank and “plentiful yellowtail flounder” landed by boats from Gloucester’s inshore fleet.

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