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April 24, 2013

Patrick urges new look at fish limits

Gov. Deval Patrick has aimed lower than the state attorney general and more than 60 lawmakers had requested in seeking an 11th-hour reprieve for the groundfishery.

Instead of appealing to President Obama as Attorney General Martha Coakley and lawmakers had hoped, the governor asked the acting commerce secretary, Rebecca Blank, to “encourage” NOAA to reverse a legal position, explained in an undisclosed memorandum, and allow a second consecutive year of lesser catch reductions in Gulf of Maine cod than the 77 percent the agency is targeting now.

Cuts of that level for the fishing year beginning May 1, are widely feared to be the coup de grace for the Northeast groundfishing fleet, declared to represent a socio-economic industry disaster last September.

Asserting that he is governed by the confidential legal memo from NOAA General Counsel Lois Schiffer, NOAA’s Gloucester-based Northeast regional administrator, John Bullard has said was close to publishing a binding administrative rule that would cut in shore cod landings by 77 percent, Georges Bank cod, yellowtail flounder by more than 60 percent and many other stocks by significant amounts.

Asked why the letter was sent to the acting commerce secretary and not the president, Reginald Zimmerman, a spokesman for the governor said in an email, “Secretary Blank ... is a member of the Obama administration.”

Patrick and Obama became friends as Harvard Law School students; Patrick was a co-chairman of the Obama re-election campaign.

Patrick wrote to Blank that he agreed with the New England Regional Fishery Management Council, a policy forming arm of NOAA, that the Magnuson-Stevens Act allowed the NOAA to implement a second consecutive year of much less extreme cuts by writing an interim action. The Magnuson-Stevens Act, which requires all fishery management plans to end overfishing, clearly allows one year interim actions that only reduces overfishing. It does not specify an allowance for a second or successive year, though it also does not preclude any such action, which industry officials and state and federal lawmakers have emphasize to no avail.

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