NOAA’s New England Fishery Management Council has deferred at least until November recommending deep reductions in next year’s allowable catch of most groundfish, a move that would constrict landings even further in an industry that has been declared a federal economic disaster from Maine to New York.
The declaration did not come with any assured aid from the Commerce Department, whose acting director found the fishery failure, but the finding opens the political door for possible financial aid of an undetermined amount and form.
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell urged the council to move skeptically to reduce fishing and reminded the members of widespread doubt about the underlying science that shows weakened stocks of in- and off-shore cod and other stocks within the groundfish complex.
At its three-day meeting in Plymouth ending Thursday, the 18 members agreed to look carefully at — and perhaps recommend opening — the region’s three closed areas to limited and controlled commercial fishing next year to help mitigate the greater hardships to come.
The possible opening of the closed areas was one of a series of technical initiatives examined by the council for the looming hard times for the commercial fleets of Gloucester and other New England and New York fishing communities. Fishermen across the region face a possible shutdown of the inshore cod fishery next year, with implications that could keep most boats off the water, and deep cuts in off-shore stocks from 45 to 73 percent.
Two of the closed areas are at the east and western edges of Georges Bank; the other one, the Western Gulf of Maine Closed Area is a thin rectangle, about 18 miles wide and 73 miles long, about 15 miles east of Cape Ann, and extending from just north of Cape Cod to the waters opposite Portland.
The areas were designated off limits many years ago to foster spawning and protect habitat.