GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Fishing Industry Stories

August 29, 2012

Fishery disaster call adds more steam

New York joined Massachusetts and two other New England states Tuesday in seeking a federal disaster declaration for the Northeast groundfishery whose commercial and recreational fleets, in rapid consolidation, are facing catch reductions of 45-73 percent next year based on preliminary estimates by government scientists.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. John Kerry’s office hinted late Monday that a regional disaster declaration is being drafted by the administration.

The radical catch cutbacks are driven by stock assessments, as mandated by the 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, but the government’s science has drawn increasing skepticism. Last week, Mayors Carolyn Kirk of Gloucester and Jon Mitchell of New Bedford urged a freeze on catch limit reductions until confidence was restored in the assessment process.

In his filing for Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick asked for $21 million, but there has been no estimate of the budget for a regional disaster.

Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine filed disaster requests six or more months ago, but have gotten no response, either from Jane Lubchenco at the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or the Department of Commerce, NOAA’s parent agency, and the silence has angered elected leaders of the filing states.

Considered a pivotal battleground state in the presidential election, New Hampshire has the nation’s shortest coastline and smallest commercial fleet. It numbered just 57 boats in 2009, before Lubchenco took office, demanding and getting an accelerated transformation of the Northeast groundfishery into a catch share system that has fueled consolidation and bipartisan congressional opposition.

Commercial landings in New York ports dropped from $1.5 million to less than $300,000 in the four years through 2010, NOAA’s data revealed, with most New York boats landing elsewhere. The value of landings by New York boats was off by about 50 percent to $1.1 million over the same period, according to NOAA’s data.

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