GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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December 21, 2012

Fish panel holds off on limit cuts

New England fishing regulators Thursday delayed voting on a series of significant cuts to fishermen’s 2013 allowable catch in groundfishing stocks after repeated and emotional warnings that the reductions would finish off an industry already grappling with a federally recognized economic “disaster.”

The New England Fishery Management Council voted 15-2 to put off deciding on new catch limits for various bottom-dwelling groundfish species until their next meeting, scheduled for the end of January.

Fishery scientists say some species are recovering far too slowly, meaning drastic cuts in catch are needed to meet the law’s mandates to end overfishing and rebuild fish stocks. But fishermen and industry groups – including the Gloucester-based Northeast Coalition — have questioned the science on which the proposed cuts are based, and have said that cuts of up to 74 percent in landings for Georges Bank yellowtail flounder and a total of 90 percent for Gulf of Maine cod would further devastate the industry.

Before the vote, fishermen criticized fishery science they say vastly underestimated the health of fish stocks and repeatedly told the council the possible cuts would obliterate the remnants of the centuries-old industry.

Gloucester fisherman Mark Carroll said he’d nearly lost everything struggling under onerous fishery penalties and restrictions.

“I say if you’re going to take 1 damn percent (more), shut the whole damn thing down!” he yelled, shortly before storming out of the room to applause and shouts of support. “I’m dead here, you’re kicking my ... teeth out!”

In pushing back any final decision to January, the council backed a Northeast Seafood Coalition letter urging that the council and NOAA’s Marine Fisheries Service look into whether the Magnuson-Stevens Act would allow for extending current interim limits that, with a 22 percent cut in Gulf of Maine cod landings, for example, would still reel in any alleged overfishing but would allow the industry to function.

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