As Gov. Deval Patrick and members of Congress continue to press the White House and federal regulators to postpone severe reductions to catch limits for New England fishermen, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Tuesday notified Congress that it was moving forward with the reductions as planned for Wednesday.
NOAA announced Tuesday that it intended to file the catch limits for the 2013-2015 fishing seasons, imposing limits for Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank cod that are 78 percent and 61 percent lower that fiscal 2012, respectively.
Which fish are included in new limits
Substantial reductions to catches of groundfish are also being made for Gulf of Maine haddock, Georges Bank yellowtail flounder, American plaice, witch flounder and Cape Cod, Gulf of Maine and Southern New England yellowtail flounder.
Regulators insist the new limits are "necessary to ensure stocks are not subject to overfishing," but Massachusetts politicians and researchers have questioned the science used to draft the new limits, and fishermen warn it could cripple a $2 billion industry in Massachusetts.
Warren at rally
U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Mo Cowan headlined a rally on Boston's Fish Pier Monday with a dozen elected federal and state officials to denounced the new limits, calling on NOAA to intervene with a less burdensome, one-year 40 percent reduction to allow discussions about a more sustainable path forward to continue. The Massachusetts Congressional delegation is also pushing for federal disaster relief funding for fishermen.
Patrick last Thursday made the state's case to the White House in a phone call with Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett.
"I am very concerned about the impact these groundfish cuts will have on our fishing industry and the men and women who have dedicated their lives to it. I appreciate NOAA's offer to work with the fishing industry to lessen the impact of these cuts. I intend to hold NOAA to this commitment. I will continue to work with all federal, state and local stakeholders to support our fishing communities and to ensure both the short and long-term sustainability of this valued industry," Patrick said in a statement Tuesday.
Some limits raised
NOAA announced steps it was taking to mitigate the financial hit on fishermen, including increasing the catch limits for healthy populations of redfish, pollock and white hake, whose quota will be increased by 15 percent.
"We know that for some fishing communities that have relied heavily on cod, haddock and flounder, the next several years are going to be a struggle," said John Bullard, NOAA Fisheries Northeast regional administrator, and a former mayor of New Bedford. "We've done everything we can to include measures that may help soften the blow of quota cuts, but it's going to take a collective effort to find more ways to keep both the fishery and the businesses that support it viable while these stocks recover."
NOAA also plans to revise its population rebuilding program in the southern New England and mid-Atlantic zones to make 150 percent more winter flounder available for fishing, and will allow fishermen of all stocks to carry over 10 percent of their uncaught 2012 quota to the next season, with the exception of Gulf of Maine cod that will be limited to a 2 percent carryover.
Regulators said smaller mesh trawl gear will be allowed to more effectively target healthy populations of redfish and limits on fishing expeditions for monkfish will be lifted potentially generating $661,000 in additional revenue for the industry.
Proposed quota increases on dogfish will also be increased by 14 percent in 2013, giving fishermen more opportunity, regulators said. At-sea monitoring costs will be paid by NOAA for 2013.