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February 28, 2013

Catch shares tied to cod losses

State fisheries chief cites lack of controls under NOAA system

The 2010 catch share commodification of the Northeast groundfishery, hailed by advocates including NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco as a sure path to restoring overfished stocks and profitability for the fleet, has had the opposite effect on Gulf of Maine cod, according to the state’s director of marine fisheries.

The habit of bigger offshore boats to accumulate catch shares in Gulf of Maine cod and capitalize on pulses of the cod with landings far larger than 800 pounds has “significantly contributed to declines in local abundance” of the essential fish for the day boats, state fisheries chief Paul Diodati said in a memo sent Feb. 5 to the Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission and obtained by the Times.

Diodati wrote the memo to explain his decision not to allow the fleet of about 20 full-time state permitted boats access to closed areas inside the state-federal border, three miles from shore. He was asked to give the state fleet access to the closed areas in a meeting with representatives of the state fleet in December.

The appeal for access to the state’s closed areas from the state-permitted boats was predicated on the complaint that the big boats operating with large allocations of quota were leaving next to nothing for them. One of the contingent that appealed for relief from Diodati was Don King, a Gloucester lobsterman and state permitted groundfisherman.

“In the days-at-sea system,” said King in an interview Wednesday, “when we had trip limits, were rebuilding the cod stocks like crazy.”

But since the onset of catch share trading in the commodity system by members of fishing cooperatives known as sectors, formulated by the council in the years since Congress in 2007 mandated hard catch limits beginning in 2010, cod stocks’ strong revival ended, and the possible death spiral of the industry began. In shore cod landings were are proposed to drop 77 percent this year, beginning May 1, and off shore, Georges Bank cod landings are set to be cut 61 percent.

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