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December 24, 2012

NOAA N.E. chief eyes delay on limits

NOAA’s top regional administrator says he will “consider” applying a legal precedent presented by the Northeast Seafood Coalition that would allow for comparatively minor cuts in Gulf of Maine cod and haddock landings next year rather than the draconian cuts that would otherwise go into effect based on discouraging stock assessments.

The New England Fishery Management Council approved the proposal from the Gloucester-based coalition at its special meeting Wednesday in Wakefield. The move came in conjunction with a decision to defer setting catch limits for the groundfishery until the regularly scheduled January meeting – a time frae tha would benefit from a benchmark Gulf of Maine stock assessment and the vetting of it by the council’s Science and Statistical Committee.

The coalition wrote last Monday to the council laying out a legal theory derived from an interpretation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act by NOAA last year that became the basis of a one-year interim emergency action on inshore cod that kept the reduction in landings to 22 percent.

The stock assessments and updates would routinely have dropped landings by 70 percent and for 2013, and an Armageddon scenario, as many fishermen and council members noted during an emotional and tense meeting Wednesday.

According to the coalition, the region’s largest industry group, which is based in Gloucester, the Magnuson-Stevens Act contains language that allows NOAA to adopt a second interim emergency measure for Gulf of Maine cod, and also for haddock, based on the promise of further reducing though not ending alleged “overfishing” of the stocks. Those stocks are the primary source of landings and income for the region’s day boats, which are based primarily in Gloucester but also are found in smaller ports all along the east facing coast of New England.

Gloucester-based NOAA Regional Administrator John Bullard, whose offices in Blackburn Industrial Park regulate fisheries from Maine through the Carolinas, told the Times that “we will certainly consider the action the council recommended.”

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