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January 30. 2013 10:19PM

Science hits NH fishermen with tough regulations

PORTSMOUTH - All Dave Goethel of Hampton ever wanted to do was fish. He began a life at sea in 1967 and never looked back.

He never imagined that before he reached retirement, the fishing industry that supported his family for nearly 50 years would approach extinction.

But when the 2013 ground fishing season begins on May 1, Goethel thinks he will only be at sea for three days as a result of drastic cuts to Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank cod catch allotments set by the New England Fisheries Management Council on Wednesday.

After a long day of science and discussion, the council voted to reduce Gulf of Maine cod catch allotments to 1,550 metric tons each year for the next three years, and similar cuts were made to Georges Bank cod. Last year, the allotment was 6,700 metric tons of cod. Goethel is a member of the council and voted against the cuts.

Doug Grout, chief of the marine division of New Hampshire Fish and Game and a member of the council, said the cuts will officially be the death of what's left of the New Hampshire commercial ground fishing industry.

Fishermen in iconic fishing villages from Mid-Coast Maine to Gloucester, Mass., will be impacted; recreational fishermen will also feel the blow.

Scientists at Wednesday's meeting said both cod stocks have been over-fished for more than 20 years and environmental factors may also be playing a role in low cod recruitment rates.

Just three years ago, the industry was told that the Gulf of Maine cod stock was rebounding and was expected to be fully rebuilt by 2014. The following year, they were told the models had been wrong and the stock was actually approaching depletion. Fishermen continued to express concern with the science behind the stock assessments on Wednesday.

Whatever the cause, the fish are not out there. So far, this year fishermen have caught between 60 and 65 percent of their allotment, and are not sure they will even reach quota.

In September, the Department of Commerce announced a disaster declaration for the commercial ground fish industry in New England, but no federal money has been allocated as a result to help fishermen deal with the cuts.

Goethel said he does not want federal disaster money. He wants to fish.

Portsmouth fisherman Peter Kendall also sits on the council, and said he is unsure of what he will do next year after 15 years as a commercial fisherman.

Kendall said there are not a lot of other fisheries to diversify to. This year, the shrimp season may only last a few days at sea, scallop allocation is low and other stock allotments are also being cut, including yellowtail flounder and grey sole.

Josh Weirsma, sector manager for the New Hampshire fisheries, said fishermen are also outraged at an announcement made by the National Marine Fisheries Service on Tuesday that fishermen will have to bear 50 percent of the cost of at-sea observers in the new season.

Kendall said it does not really matter, as there will be no fishermen left to monitor.

gmacalaster@newstote.com



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