By DON CUDDY
NEW BEDFORD — The news that federal regulators are planning to slash allowable catch for the 2013 fishing year has left groundfishermen on the New Bedford waterfront worried about their future.
"It's not looking good. This is going to put everybody out of business," said Alex Smith, captain and owner of the dragger Buzzards Bay, as his crew worked on gear at Steamship Pier on Monday afternoon.
A Westport resident who has been fishing for 20 years, Smith fishes primarily on Georges Bank and his family owns three boats, he said. But with estimated cuts of 70 percent predicted for Georges Bank cod and 51 percent for yellowtail flounder when the new fishing year begins on May 1, the future looks cloudy. "If we're lucky, we'll get to run one boat and maybe make a paycheck," he said.
Smith said he is already buying quota from other fishermen to keep his boats fishing because the current allocations are so low. "They keep giving us less and less. But the fish come and go. It's just nature," he said.
Cuts to the yellowtail allocation pose a real threat, Smith said. "We need the yellowtail to catch flounders," he said, because the two stocks mingle. The current catch limits should be maintained for at least another year, he said.
Farther down the wharf, Todd Bragdon, owner and captain of the Resilient, was shaking his head at the news. Bragdon said he has permits to go groundfishing or scalloping so he will not be badly affected. "But the groundfishermen aren't going to be able to make it," he said.
The cuts are depressing since fishermen have adhered to rebuilding programs for at least 15 years, he said. Like many in the industry, Bragdon also questioned the fish surveys and stock assessments carried out by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He said he believes stocks are not as depleted as regulators are indicating.