Many fish populations are on the decline. Still there is some positive news. When the new fishing year kicks off on May 1, groundfish fishermen will have more opportunity to fish in Northeast waters, small-vessel owners will get a boost through permit banks, and stocks will continue on the path to rebuilding. This yearâ€™s higher catch limits will affect 12 groundfish stocks. These stocks include: Georges Bank cod, Gulf of Maine cod, Georges Bank yellowtail flounder, Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic yellowtail flounder, Cape Cod/Gulf of Maine yellowtail flounder, American plaice, witch flounder, Georges Bank winter flounder, Southern New England. NOAA has also reopened to commercial and recreational fishing 1,041 square miles of Gulf waters immediately surrounding the Deepwater Horizon wellhead, just east of Louisiana. This is the twelfth and final reopening in federal waters since July 22, and opens all of the areas in Federal waters formerly closed to fishing due to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
â€œFishing is vital to our coastal communities, their economies, and the men and women who work on the water to bring healthy seafood to our tables,â€ U.S Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said. â€œStarting May 1, we will raise catch limits for 12 important groundfish stocks.â€
Groundfish are fish that live on, in, or near the bottom of the body of water they inhabit. Some typical saltwater groundfish species are sole, flounder, and halibut.
"The increase in catch limits is a result of the rebuilding process underway and is one of many steps we are taking to grow economic opportunity in diverse, working waterfronts that support fishing jobs in the Northeast," said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA Administrator.
Catch limit increases for 11 of the stocks are due to successful rebuilding efforts, while the Georges Bank yellowtail flounder increase comes as a result of rebuilding and negotiations with Canada thanks to Congressional modifications to existing U.S. law. As a result of those negotiations, U.S. fishermen will receive an additional 2.5 million pounds, a 44 percent increase in catch allocation than the level previously agreed to for 2011.
In addition to higher catch limits, other measures will go into effect on May 1:
* NOAA approved four new permit bank sectors that provide small-scale fishermen from coastal communities with a source of more affordable catch allocation or fishing days.
* NOAA approved a two-year delay, until 2013, in the requirement for the fishing industry to cover the costs of dockside monitoring. The delay will reduce operating costs for the industry while it adjusts to the new management system.
* Due to concerns expressed by fishermen and researchers, a small area in the southern Gulf of Maine will be closed to groundfishing from April through June. The short-term closure, timed during spawning season, is intended to boost the recovery of the Gulf of Maine cod stock.
* Fishermen who practice a traditional form of fishing by using a hand-held line to catch groundfish will be allowed to fish closer to shore in areas previously closed to them, and will be exempted from the requirement to pay for dockside monitoring.
For further information: http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2011/20110419_gulfreopening.html or http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2011/20110418_newenglandfishing.html