Sen. Kelly Ayotte expressed frustration at a Senate commerce subcommittee meeting Tuesday about the drastic effects that cod and haddock catch reductions are having on New Hampshire fishermen.
The hearing was the first in a series being held as the committee takes up the issue of reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which regulates the commercial fishing industry nationally. A small group of senators heard from New Hampshire and Massachusetts fishermen and others about what changes they feel need to be made to the act.
In January, the New England Fisheries Management Council approved a 77 percent cut in Gulf of Maine cod and haddock catch allotments through 2015. That and other measures have all but stopped commercial ground fishing in New Hampshire.
Josh Weirsma, sector manager for New Hampshire‘s fisheries, testified during the hearing that because boats recently had to stop fishing for dogfish, only four total boats were fishing in New Hampshire — down from 36 in 2009.
Ayotte said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is charged not just with protecting fish stocks, but fishing communities, and pressed John Bullard, northeast regional administrator for NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, about how he planned to do that.
“This is a matter of survival for an honorable and noble profession in New Hampshire,” Ayotte said. “New Hampshire fishermen who have, many of them, had this in their families, they have fished the waters and believe firmly in sustaining the stocks because it is part of their livelihood and yet they have not been given the opportunity to even transition,” Ayotte said.
“It seems to me they care deeply about what they do, we are proud of them, yet so many of them are going out of business,” the Republican senator said.
Bullard said it bothers him, too, as a native of the fishing port of New Bedford, Mass.
“The condition of cod stocks in New England is something that keeps me up at night as well. I wrestle with it, especially the situation in New Hampshire, a state that had six processing plants and is down to one, the Yankee Co-op,” Bullard said. He said it is something he considered in adjusting a harbor porpoise closure instituted last year that would have shut down the ground fishery during the most important months of the season.
He said in the long-term, the question is what can be done to rebuild the stocks.
“Now long-term is one thing — if you can’t get to the long-term because you go out of business, then what difference does it make,” Bullard said.
Ayotte agreed, and stated that is why she does not understand why interim measures were not extended.
Bullard said the request was rejected both for legal reasons, and because the fish just are not out there.
“There are other fish out there, and we are working very hard with the fishermen to find ways to get people through this,” Bullard said.
He said he recently talked with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker who said she is committed to doing whatever she can to help, including helping fishermen catch the fish that are still in abundance and building markets for them.