January 29, 2013

Crippling 'reality' arrives for New England fishermen

The groundfishing industry gets no U.S. disaster relief as it awaits a 'devastating' reduction in catch limits.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

A groundfishing boat heads toward shore Monday near the Portland Fish Pier. Tighter restrictions may force fishermen to shift to healthier species with larger catch limits.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

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Vincent Balzano, a fisherman from Saco who serves on the council, said the biggest problem is that no one has figured out why many groundfish species have been slow to recover despite stringent catch limits.

The industry will have to adapt by shifting to healthier species with larger catch limits, such as redfish and pollock. But he said there won't be enough fish to support the existing fleet.

"When you are looking at an 80 percent reduction (in catch), it would be very difficult to maintain the same number of participants," Balzano said.

But if anyone can adapt, it's fishermen, he said.

"We have a lot of hard-working, resilient and innovative people," he said. "Bad news is nothing new to us."

The cuts will not be felt uniformly throughout the industry. The most austere catch limits will affect near-shore vessels. Species farther out in the Gulf of Maine or on Georges Bank -- reachable only with multi-day trips -- are in better shape.

James Odlin, whose Atlantic Trawlers Fishing operates five boats out of Maine and Massachusetts, said his group won't be affected as much as those that fish closer to shore.

But Odlin, who recently completed several terms on the New England Fishery Management Council, said he has "very little faith" in the science suggesting that the fish stocks are in dire condition.

"I don't know why we should believe the science when three years ago they said the stocks were rebuilding," Odlin said.

Ben Martens, manager of the Port Clyde fishing sector and executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen's Association, said people are upset and worried about how they will fare under the impending cuts. But they know that something must be done.

"The stocks aren't there, based on what they are seeing," Martens said. "Right now, they are very concerned about what has happened to the stocks."

Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@mainetoday.com

On Twitter: @KevinMillerDC

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