January 31, 2013

Big cuts in catch bring 'sad day' for fishermen

New England fishermen say their industry is facing collapse after regulators lower quotas to rebuild cod and other stocks.

By Jessica Hall jhall@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Jim Odlin, who owns three fishing boats out of Portland, questions fishery scientists after their presentation at the New England Fishery Management Council meeting Wednesday in Portsmouth, N.H.

Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Fishermen listen to scientists and regulators during the New England Fishery Management Council meeting in Portsmouth, N.H. Many fishermen oppose lower catch limits, but advocates argue they are critical to preserving the future of fish stocks.

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The council did decide Wednesday to increase the catch limit for southern New England mid-Atlantic winter flounder by 168 percent, to 1,676 metric tons a year.

Supporters of the catch reductions said they are needed to preserve fish stocks and the long-term future of the industry.

"This is your best available science, and science consistently overestimates biomass," said Peter Shelley, senior counsel for the Conservation Law Foundation, during public testimony before the final vote. "There is no biological hope on the horizon."

The council considered a proposal to close the Gulf of Maine to groundfishing, but voted 16-0 against it, with one abstention.

As recently as 1990, an estimated 350 Maine-based vessels, supporting thousands of offshore and onshore jobs, spent at least part of their time hunting groundfish.

Those vessels hauled in more than 15 million pounds of Atlantic cod alone that year, and millions more pounds of other bottom-dwelling species, according to statistics from the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

Cod and other species then plummeted, due in no small part to overfishing. The result was ever-tightening catch limits.

By 2011, the 40 to 45 vessels remaining in Maine hauled in just 750,000 pounds of cod. The 5 million total pounds of groundfish landed in Maine that year was valued at roughly $5.7 million, compared with a lobster catch valued at $334.6 million.

The groundfish industry pulled in a total of about $90 million in 2011.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Commerce designated the northeastern groundfishery an "economic disaster," clearing the way for emergency federal funds to help support the industry, research programs or management practices.

But Congress has yet to appropriate any money.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree released a prepared statement Wednesday night saying, "There is no question that these catch limits are going to be devastating to fishermen in Maine. This is why a fisheries disaster was declared last year and it just makes it even more outrageous that Congress has refused to approve disaster funding for the fishermen who are being hit hard by these cuts."

Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority owner of the Portland Press Herald.

Some fishermen said Wednesday that they won't fish under the new limits because it would be unprofitable.

Robert Dunne of Gloucester said he will look for a new job and try to learn new skills.

"I want a state job. A government job," he said. "We have to adapt."

Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:


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