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April 8, 2013

Forum eyes solutions as key fishing date nears

A community forum billed by organizers as “Coming together to support our fishermen and the port of Gloucester” planned for Wednesday is aimed at developing a “comprehensive” solution for holding off or effectively dealing with a series of dire May 1 cod limit cuts that many see as sounding a virtual death knell for Gloucester’s and the Northeast’s groundfishing industry.

Organizer Valerie Nelson, a former city councilor and Gloucester port activist, says she hopes the open community forum — set for Wednesday at 7 p.m. at The Gloucester House restaurant on Seven Seas Wharf off Rogers Street — “can help build good strategic thinking, and momentum going forward.”

The forum comes as fishing’s May 1 “day of reckoning” over reportedly low fish stocks, as NOAA regional administrator John Bullard has termed it, draws near. Despite pressure to extend the current fishing year’s Gulf of Maine cod limits for a second year under the Magnuson-Stevens Act — limits that have included a 22-percent landing limit cut from 2011, Bullard has held to plans to implement an additional 77-percent Gulf of Maine cod cut for the new fishing year, a figure many fishermen fear will barely cover their bycatch and will essentially stop any targeted fishing for cod in 2013 or 2014.

NOAA’s new limits for the 2013 year, which dawns 23 days from today, include drastic cuts in yellowtail flounder limits and in other stocks as well.

Nelson said the Wednesday forum will include a discussion of issues related to the science that has brought about the new NOAA limits — and has drawn extensive credibility questions from the fishing community. But the forum will also aim to develop a strategy in pushing for comprehensive solutions — including the idea of fishing boats sidelined after May 1 to join NOAA researchers in cooperative efforts to developing more viable stock assessments. NOAA officials have thus far resisted any assessment input by rank-and-file fishermen despite calls to do so from officials up to and including former U.S. Sen. John Kerry, now Secretary of State.

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