April 08, 2020

Rules aimed at saving groundfish released

BOSTON – New rules aimed at protecting valuable groundfish stocks that continue to struggle despite years of tough restrictions were released Wednesday, including cuts in already limited fishing days.

The federal rules, which go into effect next month, count each day in heavily fished areas off the Gulf of Maine as two days, a measure Gloucester fisherman Vito Giacalone said will bring “a fisheries disaster” to northern ports from Gloucester to Portland, Maine.

“This is for real,” said Giacalone, of the Northeast Seafood Coalition, an industry group. “I can’t think of a vessel that’s going to come out of this OK. They’re all in serious trouble.”

But the rule restores one-to-one counting of days at sea to an area of Georges Bank used by fishermen from southern New England. Most of the New England fleet is currently working under a batch of interim rules that count each day at sea as 1.4 days.

New Bedford fisherman Robert Lane said he welcomes the new rules, though they’re coming too late to make much difference this fishing season. The rules go into effect Nov. 22.

“You can look forward to something better” next year, said Lane, who owns two fishing boats. “But then there will be the next rule, the next framework.”

The new rules, called Framework 42, were proposed early this year by the New England Fishery Management Council to curb overfishing, which regulators say is preventing commercially important stocks, such as cod, from recovering. The final rules were released largely unchanged Wednesday after a public comment period

Giacalone said the new rules limit most fishermen in northern New England to 24 days of fishing per year, far too few for fishermen to financially survive.

Teri Frady, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s northeast regional office, said the rule simply protects the fish where they are.

“The problem isn’t the rule,” she said. “The problem is we don’t have enough fish, and that’s what this rule is trying to correct.”

The new rules also include lower limits on the daily catch of certain stocks, such as yellowtail flounder, and a requirement that all fishing vessels be equipped with Vessel Monitoring Systems. The systems track fishermen as they move through various zones that have different regulations and catch limits.

Fishermen who must install new systems are eligible for a roughly $3,100 reimbursement, the cost of the lowest priced system that’s been approved.

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