New England's fishermen are again facing onerous cuts in their time at sea as regulators decide on more restrictions to help struggling fish stocks recover.
BOSTON New England's fishermen are again facing onerous cuts in their time at sea as regulators decide on more restrictions to help struggling fish stocks recover.
Fishermen absorbed major cuts in 2004, but regulators are seeking more due to alarming declines in flounder and cod. Those commercially important species have been the focus of years of rebuilding efforts.
The New England Fishery Management Council will determine the specifics at a meeting in Maine starting Tuesday. Proposals include cuts in fishing days, ranging from 8 percent cut to 40 percent, which would drop the maximum days-at-sea from about 52 to about 32.
In 2002, most fishermen had a maximum 88 days at sea.
Gloucester fisherman Vito Giacalone said he expects the new cuts to be at least as damaging as the 2004 restrictions, called Amendment 13. Fishermen said at the time that the amendment was "a death sentence" for the industry.
"The problem with crying wolf so many times over the years is that it waters down a legitimate cry," said Giacalone, who works for the Northeast Seafood Coalition industry group.
Chris Zeman of the environmental group Oceana said limiting fishing days is ineffective because fishermen just figure out ways to work more efficiently. He advocates strict quotas that stop fishing when catch limits are reached.
"The system needs to be more reliable," Zeman said.
Last year's stock assessment indicated the cod population had fallen by 20 percent between 2001 and 2004. It also indicated the yellowtail flounder population had been overestimated by 77 percent -- renewing persistent criticism by fishermen that the science is flawed. Regulators say the science has passed rigorous scrutiny.
According to New England Fishery Management Council figures, the catch of Gulf of Maine cod must be reduced by 32 percent to reach targets set in Amendment 13 for fiscal year 2006. The yellowtail flounder catch must drop by 46 percent in the Gulf of Maine and 55 percent in the fishing area south of New Bedford.
In addition, the winter flounder catch must drop 46 percent in Georges Bank, east of Cape Cod, to meet the 2006 goals.
Regulators also want to close a loophole that's allowed fishermen to stretch the 24 hours of an allotted day at sea over multiple fishing days. Now, fishermen can catch the 800-pound daily trip limit for Gulf of Maine cod in 12 hours, then use the remaining 12 hours on a different day to catch another 800 pounds.
The council wants to count any trip in the Gulf of Maine as a minimum of 24 hours, regardless of the trip's length.
Giacalone said that would force fishermen to work through fatigue and bad weather to be sure they don't waste a day at sea, he said.
"There's nothing good about (it)," Giacalone said.
Source: Associated Press