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February 14, 2013

Enviro group urges fishery shutdown

While fishing industry group and federal lawmakers have sought to ease dire new catch limits seen as threatening Gloucester’s and New England’s groundfishery, a leader of at least one prominent environmental group says the limit cuts of up to 77 percent “did not go far enough.”

Peter Shelley, senior counsel at the Conservation Law Foundation Massachusetts, wrote in the foundation’s online newsletter, reporting the New England Fishery Management Council’s January approval of new limits that would cut the maximum landings of Gulf of Main cod by 77 percent for both the new fishing year that begins May 1, and for 2014. The regional council, at the same session, also cut the Georges Bank cod allowable catch by 61 percent for both this year and next.

In his report, Shelley wrote that “recent assessments showed stocks at the lowest levels and declining rapidly. The fish just aren’t there anymore.”

“However, this cut to cod quota did not go far enough,” Shelley wrote. “The council implemented the least aggressive cuts allowable by law, and they pushed the limits of scientific advice.

“Failing to shut down the fishery puts short-term economic interests over the long-term health of New England’s cod fishery and the viability of a whole generation of groundfishermen,” he wrote.

Shelley’s comments reflected the council’s choice to peg the accepted biological Gulf of Maine cod catch at 1,550 metric tons — the relatively higher option presented by the council’s Science and Statistical Committee, which outlined the result of its latest stock assessment.

But many within the fishing industry and fishery groups have raised questions regarding the validity of the 2011 and newest assessments, which conflicted wildly with a 2008 assessments found cod stock in the midst of solid recovery. NOAA’s science program has also come under fire for not allowing rank-and-file fishermen to participate in the stock assessments under cooperative research efforts previously urged by now-former U.S. Sen. John Kerry, and fishermen have also raised questions about NOAA’s gathering methods using its new research vessel, the Bigelow.

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