By Richard Gaines
On the same day the Northeast fishing industry learned of impending drastic cutbacks in catch limits for next year, a draft reform of the law governing the industry — giving regulators more flexibility and fishermen more input — was filed with the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee.
The dire catch limit projections, with cuts of up to 70 percent for cod, brought new pressure on the Obama administration Friday to declare its fisheries policies in the Northeast to have created an economic disaster in the state’s ports.
The House Natural Resources Committee bill has been given little chance of enactment before the end of the session current, but supporters hope to have it marked up for House floor action this fall.
The drafting of the bill and its filing with the committee underscores concern that the 2006 re-authorization of the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act has had unintended consequences — that interpretations by federal fishery regulators have translated into draconian catch limit decisions with large uncertainty buffers that are devastating the recreational and commercial fishing industries.
The reduced catch limits on key stocks in the Northeast of more than 70 percent, announced as informal projections Thursday, were described as a potential death knell for many fishing businesses. In the past two years, the number of boats and crews have continued to shrink even as the gross value of landings has risen, according to figures released by NOAA earlier this week.
Many small boat businesses have been surrendering to bigger and better capitalized operations in a consolidation battle triggered by the beginning of catch share trading in May 2010.
The NOAA data shows that, over the past two years, the number of active vessels is down by 20.3 percent and crew positions are off 13.2 percent, even though the gross weight of landings has jumped 20.1 percent