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May 1, 2013

NOAA sticks to cuts in fish limits

The Northeast groundfishing industry faced the music Tuesday — and it was a dirge.

NOAA Regional Administrator John Bullard informed members of Congress Tuesday that he was filing in the Federal Register catch limits and the overall fishing regime for the new fishing year starting today and carrying through 2015. And the briefing confirmed devastating cuts in the stocks on which the fleet of about 450 boats have depended.

Boats primarily from Gloucester, New Hampshire and Maine that fished for Gulf of Maine cod found their allocations cut by 78 percent, and many fishermen — including Joe Orlando, one of Gloucester’s best known and most vocal captains — said their businesses were rendered non-viable.

“Want to buy a boat?” said Orlando, who fishes from the 70-foot vessel Padre Pio. “I put it up for sale. I have no choice.”

Larger off-shore boats, some from Maine and Gloucester but primarily from New Bedford and Pt. Judith, R.I. that fish Georges Bank cod and yellowtail will be allowed to land about one third of their previous allocation.

But after years of incremental reductions and new systems of operation for the fleet, the new cuts are expected to leave much of coastal New England without commercial fishing. Exceptions will be Gloucester and New Bedford, the regional centers from which fishermen will fish on, but in a much more limited fashion.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester described the cuts Tuesday as “the greatest threat we’ve seen to the survival of groundfishing in New England, and risk the total collapse of a fishery that has endured for hundreds of years.”

“Today,” he added, “NOAA has responded to a declared disaster by creating a crisis.”

State Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, D-Gloucester, said in a statement the action demonstrated the “contempt” in which NOAA holds the fishermen. She called the final rule “a death sentence” for the industry.

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