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October 11, 2013

Fishing group digs in vs. fed 'habitat' plans

The Northeast Seafood Coalition scored a significant victory this week when it helped fight off additional fishery closures related to what it regarded as unwarranted efforts to protect the harbor porpoise.

Now, the Gloucester-based industry group is gearing up for the next potential threat to the already-reeling Northeast groundfish industry: the Habitat Omnibus Amendment.

“It’s all about habitat,” NSC executive director Jackie Odell said when asked what’s next on the coalition’s agenda.

And with good reason.

The crafting of the Habitat Omnibus Amendment ultimately will determine the specific areas of the ocean that will be open to fishermen in the Northeast multispecies fishery. The modifications are expected to take effect in the winter of 2015.

It is an extraordinarily complex process, now moving into its sixth year. It is heavily driven by science and varying perspective — and thus often rife with the contention and disagreement that have emerged as the hallmarks of the effort to sustain and govern the American commercial fishing industry.

The coalition has submitted its public comments to the council that, at least in part, underscore those differences. They include:

“Any habitat area considered for protecting spawning or juvenile fish should be developed for a future management action.

First, the (Closed Area Technical Team) work has appeared very late in the amendment process. There has been inadequate time for stakeholders to participate and react to these alternatives that will impose great hardship for many fishing businesses.

Second, there is serious concern with the scientific information and data being used to identify and justify such areas.

Third, in many cases, the alternatives put forth by CATT conflict with the efforts of stakeholders over the years to work closely together to craft thoughtful alternatives in the amendment.”

Existing and future spawning and seasonal closures should be closed to all gear capable of catching groundfish.

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