, Gloucester, MA

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June 12, 2013

Status quo tightens squeeze on fishermen

Just six weeks into the new fishing year, Gloucester and other New England fishermen and their federal regulators share a common belief that the very existence of the fishery is in peril, yet both sides remain entrenched in their feelings regarding how to deal with the crisis the federal Department of Commerce acknowledges is an “economic disaster.”

For Joe Orlando, who skippers the 65-foot dragger Padre Pio out of Gloucester with his son Mario as the only crew member, a recent Saturday proved a good day in a season he thinks is bound for the rocks.

Hot sun and calm waters buoyed the Padre Pio and her catch, mostly flounder, that Orlando expected would fetch $1,300 on the market Monday. But with most catch limits cut by about three quarters in the fishing year that began May 1, a few more good days and Orlando may have to hang it up by midsummer, he said.

But Orlando, who went out fishing about 100 days annually in recent years, estimates he hauled in about 10 percent of his flatfish quota in that one day, during just 13 hours at sea, a few miles off the coast of Cape Ann. And other fishermen who gathered with him at Fisherman’s Wharf Tuesday told of being caught in a similar squeeze.

The drastic catch limit cuts — cuts of 78 percent for Gulf of Maine cod, and more than 50 percent for several other stocks — were set by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration were a response to a crisis that could doom the once mighty cod and other fish that live near the seafloor, according to NOAA and the environmental scientists who helped draft the stock assessment for the New England fishery.

But while NOAA Northeast Administrator John Bullard continues to claim the agency must curb the amount of groundfish the New England fleet can haul, the skippers and nearly every top elected official in Massachusetts argue that the scientific models the federal government uses are antiquated, and it is the catch limit that will leave boats like the Padre Pio rusting on the wharf.

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