Regulators Slash Cod Quotas For 2015

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New England fishermen say many of them will be put out of business, after the New England Fishery Management Council voted Tuesday evening to drastically reduce catch limits for cod in the Gulf of Maine in 2015.

"You’re setting us out to hang to dry," said Paul Vitale, a Gloucester fisherman at the council meeting. "Because you guys are wrong, and you know you’re wrong, and nobody has the balls to admit it."

Vitale, a third-generation fisherman, said he has put his boat on sale in light of the catch limit reductions and plans to seek other work. He blamed regulators for relying on what he calls faulty research.

"Every year, every species we see more and more," he said. "And we tell you that, and every year, you say there’s less and less. Then we go prove you wrong. You’ve been wrong, you’ve been wrong, but there’s nothing in here saying, ‘If we’re wrong how are we going to fix it?’ "

The cut in catch limits amounts to a 75 percent reduction from this year — which is already 77 percent lower than fishing in 2013.

Five years ago, New England fishermen could catch nearly 20 million pounds of cod, collectively. In 2015, that figure will be lower than 1 million.

The drastic action comes on the heels of studies showing the cod stock in dire straits. One recent report showed cod reproducing at only 3 percent of the level needed to maintain a healthy population.

"We need to recognize the condition of this fishery," said John Bullard, NOAA's Northeast regional administrator. "It’s in horrible condition. And we need to rebuild this stock."

Still, Bullard and other regulators said they are aware of the financial impact their decision will have on the fishing industry. Right before their vote on catch limits, they listened to a report from Chad Demarest, a fishery economist tasked with providing economic forecasts for the industry in 2015. He said for some, especially smaller vessels, it could mean the loss of more than half their revenue.

"It’s the 30- to 50-foot vessels that really bear the brunt of these options," Demarest said. "In fact, I’d suspect that there’s going to be operators, and probably even entire ports, that are not going to see groundfish fishing activity."

Fishermen add that the low cod quota also affects their other operations. Even if they hunt for haddock or flounder, they could accidentally catch enough cod to meet their quota before the season ends.

"I may not even be able to catch. As soon as I catch that codfish, I gotta tie up for the year unless I buy more codfish from someone else who isn’t fishing," said Vitale, who added his cod quota for 2015 would likely be around 800 pounds, down from 70,000 in 2010.

The council will also consider other measures when it continues its meeting Wednesday, including one to drastically expand a no-fishing zone around cod spawning areas in the western Gulf of Maine.

This segment aired on November 19, 2014.

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Jack Lepiarz Reporter and Anchor
Jack Lepiarz was a reporter and anchor at WBUR.



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