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Managing to survive

New Englanders are determined to wait out groundfish recovery — one way or the other

By Linc Bedrosian

Groundfishing off New England isn't easy, and it hasn't been for more than a decade. Federal stock rebuilding mandates have triggered increasingly severe fishing restrictions and eroded to a precious few the number of days harvesters can fish each year.

Lagging cod and yellowtail flounder populations have resisted man-made rebuilding timetables. Fishermen, envisioning ever-deeper cuts in their harvests under the current regime, feel compelled to develop alternative management proposals. Nonetheless, the New England Fishery Management Council, now developing the 16th amendment to its fishery management plan for cod and 18 other species, voted in June to focus on adjusting its long-standing days-at-sea regime as needed to meet stock rebuilding demands for 2009.

However, this will not preclude the development of so-called fishing sectors as part of the amendment, a sector being a group of permit holders who receive and manage an allocation of fish.

Indeed, the 19 sector proposals submitted to the council for consideration suggest that despite New England's well-known disdain of quota programs, some harvesters are concluding that there may be no other way out.

"It's the logical business response to an impossible regulatory situation," says Robin Alden, executive director of the Penobscot East Resource Center, in Stonington, Maine. "It doesn't mean it's the right thing for either the fish or the communities."

Meanwhile, the council moved to initiate a 17th amendment to continue development of two more management alternatives, area management of groundfish stocks (which Alden champions) and a point system that would provide an incentive to fish on healthy stocks. The council's immediate focus is on getting Amendment 16 ready to be implemented by May 2009 and then diving into Amendment 17 with the intent of having it ready by May 2010, according to Pat Fiorelli, the council's public affairs officer.

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