October 24, 2003



US' New England Calls For Resolution to Overfishing


Faced with alternatives they believed would doom their industry and way of life, US' New England fishermen offered regulators a plan of their own.


Their proposal is freedom in continuation to fish for healthy fish stocks, and they will give way in terms of reduced fishing of vulnerable species the government wants to protect.


On Tuesday, their plan won initial approval from the New England Fishery Management Council. The body is now set to consider it among five alternatives for the new restrictions, called Amendment 13.


The proposal by the Northeast Seafood Coalition cuts fishing days on vulnerable stocks, but creates a new class of days on which fishermen can target only healthy stocks, such as haddock. The move is designed to give fishermen a chance to make money on under fished species while still protecting vulnerable stocks, such as cod.


In a major strategic shift, the plan also implicitly accepts federal scientists' long term goals for rebuilding stocks, which fishermen have loudly disputed as unrealistically high and based on flawed science.


Gloucester fishermen Vito Giacalone, who helped author the new plan, still opposes the federal targets, but said fishermen had no choice but to create a plan that included them. Anything else wouldn't have passed muster with regulators, he said.


"I don't want to roll the dice for the industry that way," he said. "We've got four (other) alternatives on the table and all spell disaster."


The council must choose one of the plans at an early November meeting under a federal court order to stop overfishing.


A study of the impact of the four other alternatives forecasted around 2100 regional job losses as compared to 3,000 in the first year.


The Northeast Seafood Coalition plan won support Tuesday from various fishing groups and advocates, including the Rhode Island Commercial Fisherman's Association and the City of New Bedford.


Other major fishing groups, including the Associated Fisheries of Maine and the New Bedford-based Trawler's Survival Fund, backed an unsuccessful alternative, which rejected the federal goals for rebuilding stocks.


The industry plan was referred to a council committee for technical review, but if problems are detected it will be brought into compliance one way or another, said David Borden, chairman of the council.


Chris Zeman of the environmental group Oceana commended the Northeast Seafood Coalition for developing a plan "instead of just saying, 'No.'"


But he said the proposal is flawed in certain areas such that without real-time catch reports or more observers on fishing vessels, regulators aren't actually aware fishermen are targeting healthier species on days they're restricted to them.