GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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October 10, 2013

NOAA nixes porpoise-fueled closures

Federal fishing regulators have deep-sixed a strategy that sought to protect the harbor porpoise by closing more New England fishermen out of certain areas.

The so-called “consequence closures” were enacted if too many porpoises were caught in fishermen’s stationary gillnets — a plan that threatened to pose dire new consequences to the groundfishing gillnet fleet, which includes many of the boats out of Gloucester.

The Northeast Seafood Coalition, the Gloucester-based industry group, had pushed for a re-analysis of federal harbor porpoise data, which it said found a healthier porpoise population than believed. In addition, coalition officials said, fewer porpoises are getting caught in nets.

The spokesman said that’s partly because of changed fishing practices, but also because the struggling industry is fishing less. The Northeast groundfishery, declared an “economic disaster” by the federal Department of Commerce last November, remains further burdened this fishing year by dire NOAA cuts of up to 78 percent in its landing limits compared to 2012.

The coalition also noted that, contradicting NOAA’s protective efforts, the harbor porpoise is not endangered, and gillnet fishermen said that being shut out of entire areas to protect the animals was financially crippling and unnecessarily restrictive.

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