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April 20, 2011

Documents: Catch limit 'increases' don't add up

The higher catch limits for the New England groundfish complex announced this week by U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke were actually set by the federal regional fishery management council in 2009 in the final construction of Amendment 16, the regulatory regimen.

And while the secretary was correct in noting that catch limits generally were being increased, catch limits on two major stocks — haddock and pollock — were severely reduced. So, the total allowable catch for the groundfishing fleet in all stocks will be lower by 9.1 percent in the fishing year that begins May 1, documents indicate.

The reduced catch limits were not mentioned by Locke in his prepared statement, nor did he note that the combined limit for all stocks would be lower.

Based on figures provided by the Northeast regional office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the industry will be allowed to catch 76,330 metric tons of mixed groundfish in the coming year, compared to the 84,106 metric tons allowed in the current year.

While limits on 17 stocks will be marginally higher, the cut in haddock was 24.4 percent — from 41,265 metric tons to 31,627 metric tons — and pollock was cut by 16 percent, from 16,553 metric tons to 13,952 metric tons.

While the reported increases were announced with a flourish, fishermen scoffed at the plan, saying the higher catch limits had long been a fait accompli and were largely irrelevant since the fleet has not come close to landing the slightly lesser catch limits for the fishing year ending April 30.

"Actually, this year's catch rates for this time period are slightly below last year," NOAA spokeswoman Maggie Mooney-Seus said in an e-mail to the Times.

An arm of the federal government that writes policy for administration approval, the New England Fishery Management Council in 2009 proposed two years of catch limits while completing a radical reengineering of the industry that brought about the tradeable catch share management system.

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