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Old 12-04-2006, 12:15 PM
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AP Story - New England Rethinking Region's Fishery

stumbled across this in the Houston Chronicle of all places...It may have ran locally but i didnt see it....http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/fn/4377485.html


Markets - Dec. 4, 2006, 9:23AM
New England Rethinking Region's Fishery

By JAY LINDSAY Associated Press Writer
2006 The Associated Press

BOSTON The recent history of New England's embattled fishery has featured slow recovery of key stocks, onerous cuts in fishing days and shrinking fleets, all against a backdrop of widespread mistrust and regional rivalries.

But an overhaul of how the region's fishery is run may be under way.

As it devises new rules, the New England Fishery Management Council has encouraged the public to rethink how to regulate the historic fishery, and at least two fishing groups are working on concepts, due by year's end, that would bring radical change.

"There are a number of ways to skin a cat," said council spokeswoman Patricia Fiorelli. "It doesn't mean we're going to loosen up on conservation. But there could be other ways to get there."

Fiorelli says the current system is successfully rebuilding stocks, though cod and flounder are still struggling in certain areas. But she said it's been tough on fishermen.

Others say the system just hasn't worked _ stocks aren't recovering quickly enough, persistent troubles with cod and flounder aren't improving and fishermen are suffering.

"From our perspective, it's a failure," said Roger Fleming of the Conservation Law Foundation.

Under the current "days at sea" system, regulators try to prevent overfishing by making fishermen less efficient _ mainly by cutting fishing days at sea, though gear modifications and closed fishing areas are also common.

Environmentalists have long argued the approach is too indirect. Fishermen are adept at adapting, so attempts to control the catch by making them less efficient fail. And when annual catch limits on a stock are reached, it doesn't necessarily shut down fishing on that stock.

Fishermen complain they're punished for every natural fluctuation in a complicated, and poorly understood fishery. They also say the rules are so inflexible that they can't catch their full share of healthy stocks, and so harsh they can't make a living.

For instance, rules passed this year to protect cod in prime areas of the Gulf of Maine left fishermen there with a scant 24 fishing days a year. If cod continue to struggle, there's not much left for regulators to cut.

"It's just not working," said Richard Canastra, co-owner of the Whaling City Seafood Auction in New Bedford.

Plans being developed by the two fishing groups shift the focus from controlling how fishermen fish to equitably distributing the allotted annual catch, then closing the fishery when the limit is reached.

Regional fishermen have long resisted such "hard" catch limits. But John Pappalardo of the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association, who is chairman of the fishery council, said a system based on catch limits simply recognizes the reality of fishery laws, which tighten if too many fish are caught.

"Whether (a quota) is on paper or not, we can't exceed certain limits," Pappalardo said. "At the end of the day, we've either gone too far, or we haven't."

A plan devised by Vito Giacalone of the Northeast Seafood Coalition, a Gloucester-based industry group, takes the fishery's allotted catch and divides it into points, with vulnerable species assigned a higher point value.

A fisherman would be given a certain number of points, based on factors such allotted fishing days and vessel size, which are "spent" when he hauls in his catch. When the points run out, his fishing ends.

The plan outlaws discarding legal-sized fish managed under the current plan, the so-called "bycatch" which is a hated part of the current system.

It's designed to give fishermen autonomy by allowing them to fish when they want and bring in what they catch. It also creates a common currency that fishermen can lease and exchange to better exploit the allowed catch.

In Maine, an "area management" plan being developed by about a half dozen groups, including fishermen and the Conservation Law Foundation, focuses on uniting fishing communities by geography, and allowing them to decide how to divide and protect the catch allotted to their area.

The Maine plan is still short on specifics, and some worry the Gloucester plan is too complicated and hard to enforce. Robert Lane, a New Bedford fisherman, said stopping fishermen from dumping fish if they don't want to pay the points would be nearly impossible without having federal observers on every boat.

If no new concept adequately protects fish, the current system could remain in place, and not all fishermen would object. Lane said, "I don't think we're doing that bad," noting just a few of the regulated groundfish stocks are real problems.

His sentiment reflects the lesser toll the latest fishing rules will have on fishermen in southern New England, many of whom have double the fishing days because they aren't subject to rules in parts of the Gulf of Maine that count each fishing day as two.

Terry Stockwell, director of external affairs at the Maine Department of Marine Resources, said change is urgently needed.

Maine's state's fishing infrastructure is withering, boats based in Portland are heading south, and formerly fertile areas are barren, he said.

A new approach could bring new results, he said.

"I'm absolutely optimistic," Stockwell said. "The people that are still in this are the survivors. ... These individuals, they want this to work."
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