The Northeast commercial groundfishery — centered in Gloucester and New Bedford, and drawing boats from ports between Maine and North Carolina — is facing an economic abyss in 2013, based on the first hard but unofficial calculations of catch limit cuts that loom beginning next May 1.
According to preliminary numbers from the New England Fishery Management Council’s executive committee, the total allowable catch of Gulf of Maine cod — linchpin stock of the inshore fleet — is projected to face a 72 percent cut from the current year, while the catch limit for the Georges Bank cod, the core target of the larger offshore trip boats, is projected to be trimmed by 70 percent.
All of the cuts would be from the allowable catch from the current fishing year, which began this past May 1 and runs through next April 30. The Gulf of Maine cod catch limit was already cut by 22 percent under interim limits put in place following a dire but controversial cod assessment announced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2011.
In addition, the allowable catch for Georges Bank yellowtail flounder is projected to be cut by 51 percent for 2013, allowable landings of Cape Cod/Gulf of Maine yellowtail could be down by 45 percent, and the catch limits for American plaice — what shoppers and mongers call “sole” — are projected as being cut by 69 percent, according to the council figures obtained by the Times.
Additional, related body blows to the industry include an expected two-month closure of inshore gillnetting in the fall to protect harbor porpoises, an uncertain effort to protect Atlantic sturgeon, which was listed as threatened by vote of the New England Fishery Management Council in February, and a shift from the government to the fishermen to cover the cost of at-sea monitors, required under the catch share commodification program that was instituted in May 2010.