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Mass. AG: Fishing Limits A ‘Death Penalty’ For The Industry

BOSTON — Generations of fishermen have hauled cod, halibut, flounder and other Northeast groundfish species into the Gloucester port, where Joe Orlando runs a 65-foot trawler, the Padre Pio.

“I’ve been fishing with this boat almost 38 years,” Orlando said.

Joe Orlando and his son Mario are afraid lower catch limits will force them to stop fishing and sell their Gloucester boat, the Padre Pio. (matt.ferrell/Flickr)

Joe Orlando and his son Mario are afraid lower catch limits will force them to stop fishing and sell their Gloucester boat, the Padre Pio. (matt.ferrell/Flickr)

He’s afraid that long run is coming to an end. Earlier this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, drastically lowered catch limits in the Northeast. For some kinds of fish, Orlando’s allowed to land only about a fifth of what he caught last year. He says that’s not enough to pay the bills.

“I’ve spent my whole life building a business with my son,” Orlando said. “Maybe mid-July we’re done. It’s all over.”

State Attorney General Martha Coakley argues regulators violated federal law by ignoring the economic impact on the state’s commercial fishermen. Coakley went to Boston’s fish pier Thursday to announce she’d filed a lawsuit to throw out the limits.

“NOAA’s new regulations are essentially a death penalty on the fishing industry in Massachusetts as we know it,” she said, flanked by state representatives, U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch and Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard Sullivan.

Coakley also said NOAA failed to use the best science to count fish, but the agency disagrees.

“Given the poor condition of these stocks and the phased approach we took to reducing fishing effort to help ease the economic impacts on fishermen in 2012, the cuts are necessary,” NOAA’s regional director, John Bullard, said in a statement.

Bullard stood at Boston’s fish pier in late April as the new restrictions went into effect, saying they’re designed to reverse decades of overfishing.

“We have to rebuild these stocks,” Bullard said then, “and get out of this situation where we’re at historically low levels of codfish.”

Bullard admits it’s painful for fishermen. But he says until fisheries return to sustainable levels, there’s no future for the industry. He says it’s time to look forward, and that means finding ways to help fishermen transition their skills and equipment to go after more abundant kinds of fish.

The Obama administration has declared a disaster for the industry. Congress has yet to allocate any aid.

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  • muffy burnham

    It’s over. Greed has killed the North Atlantic ground fishery.

    Coakley, Secretary Sullivan, the Governor and the rest of the politicians should stop pandering to the commercial fishing industry and they should also stop their efforts to silence fishery biologists.

    Market hunting was banned, just over a hundred years ago, when greed destroyed the hugely abundant herds of bison, elk and deer and the flocks of ducks, geese, passenger pigeons, etc. Ranching and farming of livestock filled the void.

    Today, we have failed to learn from history and have cotinued our profligate wild resource extraction ways. Instead of killing off the last of the wild fish to satisfy commercial interests …and to get a few votes … it is time to expand fish farming.

    Just like with ranching and farming of livestock, aquaculture can fill the void.

    • jeffbax

      I’m not sure what you mean by pandering to the commercial fishing industry… If you’re talking about fishermen opposed to catch shares and the politicians who pander to them, I agree it is bad news. Catch shares (eg: semi-privatization with the industry) have done incredible things in regard to helping promote sustainable fishing. From Harvard Business Review:

      “In New England, a form of a catch share also produced promising results for groundfish. From 2009 to 2011, groundfish landings were up six percent, revenues for fishermen were up 18% and discards were reduced by two-thirds.

      After five years of catch share management, the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery is growing because fishermen are staying within the scientific limits. Boats that once suffered from ever-shortening seasons have seen a 60% increase in the amount of fish they are allowed to catch. Having a percentage share of the fishery means fishermen have a built-in incentive to husband the resource, so it will continue to grow.”

      http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/01/how_behavioral_economics_could.html

      Also noted in particular regard for New England, however, is that warming waters have also driven more cod predators into the waters, and cod stock further north.

      Unfortunately, politicians (Republicans and Barny Frank) have also recently in 2012 passed legislation blocking the NOAA from expanding the programs, leaving us with the tragedy of the commons scenario playing out as it has traditionally in regard to fishing – http://reason.com/blog/2012/05/30/give-a-man-a-fishery-and-soon-youll-have/print

  • maraith

    If the fishermen really cared about their livelihood, they would support quotas or even a full moratorium on New England fishing. They couldn’t even catch up to their quota last year because there are not enough fish! The fish are gone…possibly forever.

    Why not look into the Individual Transferable Quotas used in Iceland to revive the herring population? Obviously the current system is not working. There will be no fishing at all in future if we continue the way we have. And having politicians get points by speaking out “for the fishing industry” does no one any good.

  • YesMan

    Screw Coakley, what a loser!
    Listen: we’re killing the Atlantic supply. Quotas or starvation!

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