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November 18, 2011

Fish council slowing any catch share changes

The New England Fishery Management Council has given relatively low priority to the divisive issue of placing accumulation limits and other controls to modify the catch share system installed in May 2010 for New England groundfishermen.

The decision to drop the problem to the bottom of the council's to-do list was reported to the Times by advocates and opponents of the status quo who attended the council's three-day November meeting that ended Thursday.

But the sides agreed the the delay addressing the conflict — between better served and less well-served participants in the original allocations — was a tactical win for the signers of a "go slow" letter that was addressed to the Massachusetts congressional delegation and dated Monday — the eve of the start of the council meeting in Newport, R.I.

Circulated with the help of a number of dominant industry groups, including the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, 109 fishermen, more than a dozen of them from Cape Ann, appealed for "management stability."

"A few voices calling for the overturn of the entire sector system have been amplified in the media, and we understand that our elected officials are trying to respond to their constituents' concerns," the signers wrote. "Unfortunately, this has led to a series of increasingly dangerous proposals that truly put the future of our businesses and fisheries at risk."

Letter-signing fishermen interviewed by the Times said they feared a political push to reallocate the fishery, impose restrictions on the leasing of quota between fishermen using different gear types and boat sizes, or even to unwind Amendment 16 to the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

"This is not a letter by the 'winners,'" said seafood coalition executive director Jackie Odell in an email to the Times. "Many of these fishermen have been harmed considerably by the allocation. But they are tired of the process jerking them around, creating more uncertainty with their businesses."

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