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December 1, 2011

Fishing letter draws new fire

New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang said Wednesday the notorious, disputed and belatedly clarified fishermen's letter to Congress and NOAA national and regional officials didn't help the cause toward needed changes.

But Lang urged the industry to step back and take stock of ways Congress can remedy the system.

"Why are people apprehensive?" he said in a telephone interview. "Let's get everyone together and talk through pursuing the move to reform NOAA.

He said the answer to his question is that people "don't know what comes next."

But, "If NOAA follows the law, something better will come out," added Lang, who has spearheaded a court challenge to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's system of groundfish regulations.

Signed by more than 100 fishermen, the letter sparked a debate now in its third week over vague accusations about "a few voices calling for the overturn of the entire sector system," and "the media" for amplifying the radical notions until elected officials tuned in.

Instead, the writers argued, they wanted stability and greater federal investment in the New England groundfishery, which is now operating under a catch share management system that has brought fleet consolidation that critics note is costing jobs across the region.

Meanwhile, two other letters surfaced on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The first — signed by 18 of the original signers, and crafted in the offices of the Northeast Seafood Coalition, but sent to Saving Seafood, the industry news website, by Frank Patania, a Boston fisherman — sought to clarify that the original letter did not intend to "champion a national catch share agenda, and it is simply wrong for anyone to suggest that it does."

That was a thinly-veiled slap at the Environmental Defense Fund and the Conservation Law Foundation, both of which blogged about the original letter in ways that left the perception that the original letter writers were expressing support for the catch share system.

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