GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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April 27, 2012

New fishing hurdles loom amid 'disaster' aid brushoff

It has been more than five months since Gov. Deval Patrick, backed by Sen. John Kerry and the state's heavily Democratic congressional delegation, approached the Obama administration to get a federal fisheries disaster declaration.

Notwithstanding NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco's assurance to the Senate Commerce Committee in October that "we can turn it around quickly," the governor's Nov. 15 filing has gone unanswered, with no explanation from Commerce Secretary John Bryson — or from Patrick, who agreed in February to co-chair President Obama's re-election campaign.

The state's request for the administration to recognize that transformation of the groundfishery into a catch shares quota trading system has become a government-issue economic calamity reputedly backed by two scientific studies. The first concluded that most of the groundfishing business hadn't broken even in the first year of Amendment 16, which contains the catch share framework; the other was a case study showing hardship concentrated in the smallest of owner-operated fishing boat businesses, spread throughout secondary ports between Gloucester and New Bedford.

Since then, the economic condition and prospects of the Northeast groundfishery have only worsened, with a dire Gulf of Maine cod assessment bringing on an interim 22 percent cut in the total allowable catch for the 2012 fishing cycle that begins on Tuesday, and discouraging updates of past assessments assuring widespread constrictions next year in catch limits for groundfish stocks in Georges Bank.

Combined with dramatic cuts in the coming year in Georges Bank yellowtail — a core stock and potential impediment as bycatch to scalloping, New Bedford's golden egg-laying goose — and even deeper and wider cod cuts expected in 2013, the industry finds itself propelled by government policy and science onto an accelerating downward cycle.

The three-day meeting of the New England Fishery Management Council that ended Thursday in Mystic, Conn., was a compendium of discouragement, according to Jackie Odell, executive director of the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, the region's largest non-profit industry group.

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