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November 4, 2012

Fish council eyes December for '13 limits

The New England Fishery Management Council has set a special one-day meeting Dec. 20 to take final action on most groundfish allocations for the 2013 fishing year that begins May 1, and take near final action on Framework 48 which updates and refines Amendment 16 and its catch share maagement system.

The special meeting was spun off the November council meeting set for Newport, R.I., due to the welter of issues.

Excluded from the December agenda will be allocations of Gulf of Maine Cod, which will not be decided until January at the earliest, when a special assessment of the essential inshore groundfish is expected.

The catch limits will be the first set since the Commerce Department declared the Northeast groundfishery to have collapsed into a disaster.

Groundfish catch limits are certain to be significantly lower in general, with Gulf of Maine cod, the most important target for the day boat fleet, depending on a special benchmark assessment which was ordered in the furor that followed the 2011 benchmark assessment. The 2011 assessment showed the stock recovering much more slowly than found in a 2008 assessment that had served as the guideline for larger takings.

The 2012 catch limits were reduced by 22 percent for inshore cod by the unprecedented use — available for one time only — of emergency powers discovered in the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

The future of the inshore cod fishery is far from the only pivotal decision facing the council. Updated assessments delivered earlier this year project to dramatic cutbacks in catch limits for many offshore stocks — reductions ranging from 43-75 percent.

The council holds its previously scheduled meeting on all issues other than groundfish Nov. 13-15 in Newport, R.I.

The special Dec. 20 groundfish meeting will be held at the Sheraton Colonial in Wakefield. A detailed agenda will be published at the end of November.

“Coordination among the Council’s various technical teams, the range of issues to be addressed, including at-sea monitoring, groundfish catch limits for 2013 and measures intended to minimize the economic impacts on the fleet caused by reductions in short-term allocations, all have contributed to the need for extra time to complete the analyses that will support decision-making,” said Patricia Fiorelli, spokeswoman for the council, an arm of NOAA.

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