They left plenty of NFL quarterbacks bruised and battered. These days, another Fearsome Foursome — cod, yellowtail flounder, Atlantic sturgeon and harbor porpoises —is causing New England fishermen plenty of pain.
Increasingly stringent regulations driven by cod’s stubborn refusal to meet federal population thresholds have long been a thorn in fishermen’s side. And thanks to a controversial 2011 stock assessment, fishermen must contend with a 20 percent catch limit reduction for Gulf of Maine cod stocks for 2012. Even greater cuts may loom in 2013.
Meanwhile, fishermen must also deal with an 80 percent slash of the total allowable catch for 2012 for Georges Bank yellowtail flounder, which swim along with more valuable commercial species. Recent data indicating diminishing yellowtail numbers fueled the decision to cut the catch limit from the 1,140 metric tons given last year to 218 metric tons for 2012.
Add to the cod and yellowtail cuts NMFS’ announcement of a shutdown of prime Gulf of Maine pollock grounds in October and November to gillnets to reduce harbor porpoise deaths. Bycatch rates for the federally protected porpoises exceed thresholds set under a 2010 management plan, the agency says, thus triggering the two-month closure.
Last but not least is the prospect of restrictions that would aim to protect Gulf of Maine Atlantic sturgeon stocks, which NOAA designated as “threatened” earlier this year. The New England council discussed the possibility of developing sturgeon protection measures this week that could impact sink gillnet operations.
Like many a great quarterback, New England fishermen keep getting knocked down by formidable opponents, but they find it within themselves to keep getting back up again. The trick will be for them to continue to find a way to stay in the game.