, Gloucester, MA

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November 14, 2012

Fish panel snubs U.S., Canada limits

NOAA’s New England Fishery Management Council Wednesday heaped derision on a joint assessment of yellowtail flounder conducted jointly by U.S. and Canadian scientists, then trashed the minuscule allocation of the stock based on work that even the agency’s chief regional scientist declined to defend, except to say it was the best “available” and therefore binding.

But the deeply divided council voted 9-8 twice to authorize the $400 million scalloping fleet based in New Bedford and the groundfishing industry centered in Gloucester to land a total of 495 metric tons of yellowtail in 2013 — more than twice the amount authorized by the “transboundary” agreement covering the U.S. and Canada, though a weight that is still projected to constrain, if not short-circuit, scalloping and groundfishing.

Yellowtail and scallops are found near each other throughout the Northwest Atlantic, creating a relationship that has become a challenge for the scallopers, groundfishermen and now for the U.S. and Canadian governments, which have jointly managed the boundary between the nations’ waters that splits Georges Bank.

The council’s action, described as essential to maintaining a domestic scallop and groundfishery in 2013, was immediately undercut by NOAA Regional Administrator John Bullard, who said he could not approve the action because it violated two national standards in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act — one that bars overfishing and one that requires adherence to the best available science.

The blunt rejection of the division of the allocation by the two nations — into 285 metric tons for Canadian boats and 215 for Americans — was also repeatedly predicted to jeopardize the transboundry arrangement itself. And with Bullard on record as ready to veto, council members struggled with how to subdivide an uncertain tonnage of yellowtail, between the scalloping and groundfishing boats.

David Frulla, attorney for the scalloping industry’s Fisheries Survival Fund, described the problem as “dividing a crumb.”

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