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December 13, 2010

Hard line on haddock clashes with NOAA's own data

Of all the prized groundfish, no species may be stronger today than haddock, according to data from the National Oceanic an Atmospheric Administration.

Now fully rebuilt, NOAA figures show, stocks of the little cousin of the cod are so large that haddock is the poster fish for underfishing — its mass effectively protected by the efforts of fishermen to avoid catching other fish that swim with haddock in the mix of stocks still aggressively protected.

A report by NOAA Fisheries shows that only 13 percent of the 53 million metric tons of haddock available in Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine have been landed midway through the fishing year, which began May 1.

At that pace, by April 30 when the groundfish year ends, nearly three quarters of the authorized haddock catch will still be swimming.

Yet, the Gloucester-New Bedford based herring industry is facing an early shutdown because of a miniscule regulatory limit placed on haddock landed as bycatch — fish accidentally hauled up with fishermen's targeted species. And the potential shutdown is based on outdated and invalid assumption about the infrequency of government observers on the two ports' 10 herring boats, industry leaders say.

When only about 20 percent of the herring trips were staffed by observers who produced bycatch tallies, regulators set the bycatch limit for haddock at 0.02 percent of the total allowable catch for the Gulf of Maine and Georges, the unpredictable and swirling Times Square-like intersection of routes in the Western Atlantic that the U.S. shares with Canada.

But since the haddock bycatch limits were set, observers are now assigned to most trips, and herring catch limits were reduced by 40 percent.

So, without an emergency action by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, which has been formally sought by Rep. Barney Frank, the herring industry faces what the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has called "unnecessary hardships."

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