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Federal Agency Orders North Atlantic Fishing Grounds Partially Closed

Federal officials have closed the eastern half of Georges Bank after fishermen caught nearly 85 percent of the limit on yellowtail flounder.

Oct. 7—Federal officials have closed the eastern half of Georges Bank after fishermen caught nearly 85 percent of the limit on yellowtail flounder.

The area had been prime fishing grounds for flounder, haddock and cod.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries division made the decision Friday after incentives to slow fishing in the area failed. They closed an area of Georges Bank 100 to 150 miles east of Cape Cod. Fishermen had caught only 13 percent of the haddock quota and just 18 percent of the cod quota in that area, according to Maggie Raymond of Associated Fisheries of Maine, representing fishing boats that fish the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank.

On Monday, Coast Guardsmen from the cutter Tahoma boarded the 70-foot New Bedford fish dragger Iberia II 120 miles east of Provincetown. The cutter was allegedly fishing 12 miles inside a restricted area.

Meanwhile, fishermen throughout New England exchanged angry e-mails and phone calls complaining about the closure of the highly productive fishing grounds.

"I think this is a terrible thing ... That's where our winter fishing is the best," Mashpee fisherman and boat owner Bob Lane said.

"Even if they projected that the catch of the entire yellowtail quota was imminent, they have the authority and responsibility to allow fishermen to continue to fish for haddock," Raymond said in a press release Monday.

The area has a huge haddock stock and fishermen had hoped to continue to catch fish there through the winter. But an agreement between the United States and Canada shut the area down to all fishing for flounder, cod or haddock once any of the agreed-upon quotas were reached.

Most fishermen thought the cod quota would be the one to shut down fishing, because Georges Bank cod are in far worse shape than haddock and yellowtail, both of which are considered plentiful and well on the road to recovery.

But fishermen caught most of the flounder quota back in the spring under a program that allowed them to catch flounder and haddock in these offshore waters without using any of the 50, or fewer, fishing days they are allotted each year. Unfortunately, the timing of the program meant catching flounder that had poor quality meat after spawning and also created a glut on the market, both of which meant fishermen were paid very little per pound for their fish.

To get around the new closure, fishermen want to use a special two-tiered net that catches haddock but lets flounder escape. That net is still being evaluated, said Susan Murphy, a fishery policy analyst with NOAA Fisheries in Gloucester.

The agency put out a message warning of the closure last Friday via each ship's Vessel Monitoring System display, Murphy said. Vessels allowed to fish in this area must have these satellite-tracking devices. She said fishermen who had already left the dock were allowed to finish their trip.

Lane said the main problem is that this closure takes large vessels away from plentiful fish stocks, such as haddock and yellowtail on Georges Bank, and puts them back into the Gulf of Maine and areas closer to Cape Cod where stocks are in trouble.

"A lot of guys saved up their days for the winter and they are going to use them," he said. New England Fishery Management Council spokesperson Pat Fiorelli said yesterday that the council's executive committee is drafting a letter that will ask NOAA Fisheries to allow fishermen to use the separator trawl, which has been used successfully in Canadian fisheries.

Fiorelli said the executive committee is also contesting two points: NOAA Fisheries interpretation that the scallop fleet was allocated 10 percent of that yellowtail quota and that the regulations call for the area to be shut down before the quota is used up.

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