According to the March ’97 cover story, the crash of the region’s groundfish stocks had brought harvest cuts totaling an estimated 35 percent in recent years. And the New England Fishery Management Council’s Multispecies Monitoring Committee was recommending that fishermen’s harvests be cut another 41 percent to help return groundfish stocks to healthy levels.
“Everyone knows what that means,” wrote NF Executive Editor Clarke Canfield. “More regulations. More pain. More boats going out of business.”
The statement still rings true today. Northeast groundfishermen are wrestling with a 22 percent cut in the Gulf of Maine cod catch limit, set at 6,700 metric tons for this year, brought on by the surprisingly low 2011 cod stock assessment.
Then in late April groundfishermen learned that the health of Georges Bank yellowtail flounder has been deemed equally dire, if not more so. Consequently, groundfishermen face an 80 percent cut in the Georges Bank yellowtail catch limit for this year.
That’s a real problem for groundfishermen. It’s difficult to catch the more valuable fish species without nabbing yellowtail, too. Once the meager yellowtail catch limit is reached — and it’ll likely be reached quickly — the groundfishery will, by law, be shutdown for the year, pushing more fishermen to the brink of financial disaster.
Hence, the New England council seeks a way to mitigate the yellowtail cut. One possibility being explored is transferring yellowtail quota from the thriving scallop fishery to the groundfish fishery. Another possibility is negotiating with Canada for a greater slice of the yellowtail quota the United States and Canada share.
Meetings held this week here in Portland, Maine, and in New Bedford, Mass., yielded no easy answers. The New England Fishery Management Council’s Groundfish Committee meets next week and will likely address emergency measures for this year’s fishery.
But even if groundfishermen receive yellowtail quota from the scallop fishery or Canada, it won’t fully alleviate the pain that the massive cut is bringing to a fleet whose ranks have already been thinning. Regardless of the solution regulators devise, there’s still more pain ahead for New England.