New Fishing Rules Take Effect Saturday

GLOUCESTER, Mass. — If you’re near the shore on Saturday and hear a loud crash it won’t be the surf. It will be the sound of a foot falling as new, long-debated groundfish regulations finally go into effect in New England.


Over a period of more than two decades, fishermen in the Northeast have dealt with a system utilizing some combination of closed areas, gear restrictions, minimum size limits, maximum catch per trip limits and restrictions on the number of days a boat could fish aimed at protecting and rebuilding the region’s depleted stocks of groundfish. The rules were imposed by a succession of amendments to a Fishery Management Plan created by the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) to implement the provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (originally, the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976.)

As New England’s stocks of groundfish such as cod, haddock and flounder grew ever more depleted, fisheries regulators repeatedly reduced the number of days-at-sea that each vessel was allowed to fish for groundfish. As the number of days-at-sea was reduced, fishermen lamented that they weren’t allowed to fish enough to make a living and scientists and conservation groups argued that stocks of most of the 15 regulated groundfish species remained overfished.

The use of days-at-sea is limited largely to New England fisheries. The seven regional fishery management councils located outside of the Northeast rely heavily on the use of catch quotas as the primary mechanism for conservation of fish stocks. Now quotas are coming to the New England groundfish industry.

Beginning Saturday (for regulatory purposes, the fishing year begins on May 1), most of the New England groundfish fleet will start dealing with quotas. Under the latest amendment to the groundfish multispeicies fishery management plan (Amendment 16) vessels will be able to fish under either the days-at-sea and trip limit system, or under a system of “hard” catch quotas allocated to groups of vessels known as “sectors.”

So far, 19 sectors have been authorized to fish for groundfish, and 17 of them have submitted plans to allow them to operate this year. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service, the sectors include more than half the vessels with groundfish permits and those vessels represent 98 percent of the catch over the past several years. The remaining vessels will continue to fish under the days-at-sea program.

Under the new rules, each sector will be allocated a share of the total catch quota for each species established by fisheries regulators. Members of each sector decide how its share of the quota is to be allocated among them.

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