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January 31, 2013

Regulators limit fishing for historic New England cod

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — PORTSMOUTH, N.H. - Fishery regulators in New England are cutting the catch of Gulf of Maine cod by 77 percent for the coming season, with similar limits in the next two years, dealing a dire blow to one of the region's oldest industries.

The New England Fishery Management Council's vote Wednesday was widely read as ending direct fishing for a sock that has supported the fleet since colonial times while smothering small ports and putting larger ones under unprecedented duress.

Council staff shared predictions that fishing revenues from all New England ports - including Gloucester, the country's oldest - will drop by about one-third. But council members and fishermen scoffed and said they doubted they would be able to fish at all.

“I don’t see myself leaving the dock next year, I’m not sure we’re going fishing (anymore),” said Gloucester's Joe Orlando.

The “day of reckoning,” in the words of fishery administrator John Bullard, was decades arriving and brought about by a shortage of fish. Suggested reasons included a braid of environmental and ecological changes — millions of lobster traps that take an unknown quantity of cod as by-catch, large volumes of herring that eat cod eggs and seals that feed on cod, as well as various effects of global warming.

Bullard, the regional fishery administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, delivered a double-whammy to the fleet that for the past three years has fished under the quotas of a catch-share policy.

Bullard began the day echoing a formal opinion that there was “no legal or ecological wiggle room” allowing NOAA to take a second year of emergency action that limited the cut in cod landings to 22 percent during the 2012 fishing cycle. He also acknowledged the burden of requiring boats to begins carrying about half the cost of at-sea monitors, but said NOAA's budget did not allow the service to continue a full subsidy.

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