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May 6, 2013

Fishermen challenge stats in limit cuts

The widely used rationale for the drastic cuts in groundfish landings — that the waters of the North Atlantic hold far fewer fish than previously thought — is being challenged by two of Gloucester’s best known fishermen, Joe Orlando and Northeast Seafood Coalition policy leader Vito Giacalone.

NOAA Regional Administrator John Bullard and Peter Shelley, the senior counsel for the Conservation Law Foundation, point to the table from the NOAA Science Center showing participants in the Northeast groundfishery failed last year to catch anything close to their allocation in virtually every one of the 20 stocks as a sign that the ecosystem was so weak the fishermen could not find enough fish to catch. Both Bullard and Shelley ascribed special significance to the fact that fishermen were able to take about two thirds of the allocation in Gulf of Maine cod, the most important fish for the inshore fleet of day boats.

Shelley has gone further, criticizing NOAA and the New England Regional Council for caving to political pressure; he said the right action would have been to close the inshore cod fishery completely.

Bullard, meanwhile, has said he largely based his decision against granting the industry a second year of interim relief — with lesser cuts in Gulf cod than the 78 percent he announced last Tuesday — on what he says is evidence that there was less cod to catch than allocated.

But Orlando, owner and captain of the 65-foot trawler Padre Pio and president of the Gloucester trawl sector under NOAA’s controversial catch share management system, is citing multiple flaws in the format — notably pointing out that each fisherman’s allocations cover multiple stocks, and that that fishing stops for the year when any allocation of any stock in the portfolio is caught.

With allocations based on past catch history, each fisherman in the catch share sector system found allocations in certain stocks were very small, with others very high. But because the stocks all mix together, each fisherman invariably found he had to avoid certain stocks, or go over the top and be shut down. That, in turn, has prevented many fishermen from targeting the more popular stocks, like Gulf of Maine cod.

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