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April 8, 2011

NOAA eyes new limits on permit holdings

Nearing the end of the first fishing cycle conducted under a radically new management and allocation system, the federal government has laid the groundwork for limiting excessive accumulation of catch privileges, and protecting the interests of smaller, independent boats struggling to stay economically afloat.

A signal of pending action to protect the diversity of the groundfishing industry — perhaps by port-community, gear type and vessel size, or some combination — came Thursday with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's announcement that it had set Thursday, April 7, as a "control date."

The decision puts the industry on notice that pre-existing and post-existing policies that might be written in the future could vary — and that permit acquisitions made after the date "may be treated differently than those acquired before the date," according to the NOAA announcement.

The New England Fishery Management Council, which asked NOAA in January to establish a control date, is scheduled, at its late April meeting in Mystic, Conn., to resume discussing if and how the government intends to attempt to protect fleet diversity.

"We meant to put people on notice that any permit consolidation could be treated differently," said New Hampshire Councilor David Goethel, who made motions both for the control date and another directing completion of a draft white paper on fleet diversity.

"We might do something, we might not," he said.

"We are concerned," he said, but for now, "We don't have what I'd call hard data — just a general feeling of unease. The council has been requesting information that (NOAA) has been trying to compile on who owns what and it is more complicated than we thought."

Goethel predicted that the question of fleet diversity "will be discussed at every meeting in the foreseeable future."

There is no consensus on what kind or even whether limits on fleet diversity should be written, Goethel said.

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