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January 15, 2009

More rules on tap for fishermen

Interim regulations increase limits on days at sea, catch

For the region's commercial fishing fleets centered in New Bedford and Gloucester, the next year promises more of the same — a crazy quilt of closed grounds in different seasons and further reductions in days at sea, under interim regulations released yesterday.

But harder times for the hard-pressed fleets are anticipated, with a further 18 percent reduction in the number of days at sea among the new mandates.

Describing them as "more of the same, only more so," political and industry representatives in both ports condemned the rules, which won't become final until after 30 days after formal publication in the Federal Register.

The Pew Environmental Trust, which rarely sides with the industry, did so yesterday.

"This interim rule will not solve our problems, and may well cost many of the region's fishermen their livelihoods," Pew's Peter Baker said in a prepared statement. "The time for a new approach has come."

Brian Rothschild, a professor of marine science and technology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, said he found the approach an the outgrowth of dubious science and condemned it for ensuring bycatch, the forced discard of species fishermen are not allowed to take.

Especially harsh was U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who has watched in frustration as the fleets of her state have sold out or moved south to Gloucester and other ports.

The interim rules are designed to lead the industry into 2010, when a new approach to fishery management — harvesting collectives working on hard catch limits — is scheduled for introduction.

The short-term crackdown was expected since the release last summer of the results of a comprehensive assessment of 19 groundfish stocks. It suggested the recovery of the entire North Atlantic biosystem was progressing more slowly than hoped, or sought by the federal law.

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