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July 31, 2013

'We've been left with nothing'

Fishermen put boats up for sale

A few years back, when the feds advised Joe Orlando to increase his number of fishing permits, he invested some $400,000, continuing to follow all the rules and expecting to see the industry bounce back as promised.

He still signs checks to pay off those permits — permits he says are now all but worthless since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sliced quotas and landing limits by up to 78 percent this spring.

Now, Orlando, seeing no way out of the financial ruin that has overtaken the industry here, has joined countless other Gloucester fishermen in parking his 65-foot boat on the selling block.

“We’re done,” Orlando said Tuesday. “I still owe for these permits and now I’ve got nothing left to fish. We’ve been under NOAA’s rebuilding plan for the last 10 years, and now there’s no one accountable for it.”

In the two months since the new fishing year took hold May 1, Orlando has already reeled in enough fish to meet the 12-month quota for two species left on his permits. Those permits lost a huge amount of their worth when NOAA reduced Gulf of Maine cod quotas by 78 percent, and cut quotas for other valuable fish stocks by 40 to 60 percent.

State and federal lawmakers have both pushed for an easing of the limits, noting that the Department of Commerce recognized the entire Northeast groundfishery as an “economic disaster” last fall. And state Attorney General Martha Coakley has filed a lawsuit challenging NOAA’s actions, and the validity of the science on which the limits are based.

But NOAA’s Gloucester-based Northeast regional administrator, John Bullard, has maintained that the dire cuts are needed to better rebuild the cod stocks and other species, and has refused to back off or extend 2012 interim limits that, while cutting limits by some 22 percent, gave the fishermen viability.

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