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February 20, 2013

Signs of hard harbor times

His city’s best fishing days may be long past, but lifelong Gloucester resident Ron Gilson still sees what once was when he drives by what remains.

There’s the waterfront lot, littered with discarded fishing nets and lobster pots, where any more vessels in the famed fishing fleet once docked. The clatter and grit of a top maritime machine shop downtown has been replaced by Cruiseport Gloucester. And on the Jodrey State Fish Pier, where Gilson briefly parks, the sounds of year-round work have given way to the quiet whir of his idling Prius.

To the 79-year-old Gilson, an author and historian whose book “An Island No More” largely chronicles his growing up on the city’s waterfront, the decline of the industry has stolen jobs, community spirit and opportunity. And it’s not over, Gilson says.

“This is the lowest point,” he declares on a clear February day. “Tomorrow will be lower.”

Come May 1, New England’s fishermen will see the most dire cuts yet to the number of fish they can catch, thanks to votes last month by the New England Fishery Management Council. And the limits for the 2013 fishing year are, as of now, pegged to continue for 2014 as well — all drawn down from the current year’s interim catch levels that had been trimmed by 22 percent from 2011.

The cuts will shrink the catch limit by another 77 percent for cod in the Gulf of Maine and 61 percent for cod in Georges Bank, off southeastern Massachusetts. That’s the worst of a series of reductions to the catch of bottom-dwelling groundfish, such as haddock and flounder, that many fear could be fatal to the industry.

The cod cuts are so dire that many fishermen believe they will cover only the cod that is brought up accidentally as bycatch when fishermen are targeting other species; that means fishermen may be barely able to specifically go out fishing for cod — the Massachusetts and New England fishery’s iconic catch — at all.

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