Less than a month after President Obama held a $30,000 per-ticket fundraiser in the state of Maine, a series of shutdowns off the coast by federal regulators is poised to deal a huge blow to New England's fishing industry.
In a move to protect the estimated 60,000 to 90,000 harbor porpoises that live in the Atlantic waters between North Carolina and the Canadian maritime provinces, NOAA officials have ordered the shutdown of a busy fishing ground that extends off the coast of Glouchester, MA to southern Maine that will take effect on October 1st- peak time for New England fishermen. According to federal statistics, fishermen in the region pulled in about $4 million during that time.
The loss is huge in an industry that’s fighting for its future as it faces significant cuts in key stocks such as cod in the Gulf of Maine and yellowtail flounder in Georges Bank. There’s also no obvious end to the annual closure to protect porpoise, since the requirement to reduce accidental porpoise deaths down to 70 per year looks a long way off. The team of regulators, fishermen and environmentalists that devised the closure could conceivably decide there are better alternatives to shutting down the area, but they don’t meet until this fall.
The industry has been battered by a variety of regulatory actions starting with a rough 50 percent cut in catch limits mandated by Amendment 16 two years ago and right up to the recent 22 percent reduction in the amount Gulf of Maine cod that can be landed in the 2012 fishing year beginning May 1, a result of a 2011 benchmark assessment that contradicted the previous benchmark assessment from three years earlier.According to the NOAA, a total of 2,103 square miles of prime fishing ground will be off-limits to fishermen effective October 1st, 2012.
While the porpoise population off the New England coastline is abundant, the species is considered protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Although the law reportedly takes into account that a certain number of porpoises would be accidentally snared in the fisherman's gillnets, that total number that have recently been killed will trigger a provision in the law that would put the waters off limits.
To minimize the number of dolphins or porpoises snagged in the nets, a device that emits an intermittent sound to ward off the mammals called 'pingers' are required to be attached to the gillnets. However, regulators and environmentalists claim that the fishermen in the region have failed to comply with these requirements. The fishermen counter that it's difficult to tell whether or not a pinger has broken down.
The NOAA ruling comes about two months after the Natural Resources Defence Council successfully petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service list the Atlantic Sturgeon as a threatened species- a ruling that could leave even more of the New England coastline off limits to fishing.
Ron Smolowitz of the Fisheries Survival Fund, a scallop industry group, warned the council that restrictions to protect the fish could affect many fishermen who don’t use sink gillnets. Under the Endangered Species Act, certain areas can be designated as “critical habitat” if those areas are seen as essential to conserving the species.
Such critical habitat designations can come with restrictions that “could wipe out the entire fisheries of the East Coast of the United States,” he said.
Brad Sewell, an attorney for the National Resources Defense Council, which petitioned to have the sturgeon listed under the Endangered Species Act, said in a phone interview said it’s extremely unlikely new sturgeon restrictions will have such a broad effect.
Changes to sink gillnet fishing will be the focus, and there are affordable, sensible measures can make it less of a danger to sturgeon, such as pulling up the nets more often or raising them off the ocean floor to avoid sturgeon, he said.
If you think the name 'Natural Resources Defence Council' sounds familiar, this is the same outfit of litigous enviromentalists who decided to sue BNSF and Union Pacific Railroads over deisel emissions in rail yards out west.
In January, Maine's Department of Marine Resources challenged a National Marine Fisheries Service ruling that required fishing boats in the state to be equipped with "rock hopper" bumpers on their nets in the middle of shrimping season.
Interesting that as federal regulators continue to crack down Maine's commercial fisherman (in addition to a number of paper mills shuttering- which in turn puts a number of truckers and railroaders out of work) the President shows up at a fundraiser whose price of admission is worth more than 60% of the state's median household income asking for another four years in office.