Fishing-rule comment period to end today

Posted Feb. 16, 2009, at 10:29 p.m.

PORT CLYDE, Maine — Thirty years ago, when Glen Libby started fishing, the harbor in this fishing village bustled with as many as 40 boats.

Now, his fisherman’s co-op has only 12 boats, he says. And Libby is worried that new federal fishing regulations scheduled to take effect in May will put unfair pressures on how the state’s few remaining fishermen make their living.

“This is shutting down the fishermen,” Libby, the chairman of the Midcoast Fisherman’s Association, said Monday. “How many more industries can our Maine economy afford to lose?”

In an effort to protect dwindling groundfish stocks, the National Marine Fisheries Service last month proposed an interim rule that has caused an uproar in fishing communities throughout New England. The new regulations would cut the already limited days fishermen can fish, expand the area where each fishing day used is counted as two days and entirely close the area south of Cape Cod to trawl fishing.

It’s meant to help fish, but local fishermen are pessimistic that the rules will bring them anything but trouble.

“I think it’s going to have a negative impact on both conservation and fishermen,” said Libby of the new regulations, which may be phased out by 2010.

Officials from the fisheries service weren’t available on Monday’s federal holiday to comment.

Today is the last day that the fisheries service will accept public comment on the new regulations, and fishermen and fishing advocates held out a faint hope that a barrage of comments might encourage officials to loosen some of the rules.

“It’s going to be very, very difficult for people to pay their bills when they’re only allowed to work that very limited number of days,” said Maggie Raymond, a fishing advocate and a boat owner from South Berwick who is on the board of directors of the Maine Fisherman’s Forum. “It’s been very difficult for a number of years for people in the fishing industry. It is a very dangerous profession, and you can’t expect people to do this kind of work unless you’re paid well.”

The fishing advocates say that while the new rules might help fish such as Atlantic cod, haddock and yellowtail flounder rebound in southern New England, the waters just off the Maine coast would be inundated by fishermen anxious to make a year’s living in as few as 20 days of fishing. Overfishing there will harm the local stock and the fishermen, they say.

“You’ll basically shift all the fishing pressure from south of the Cape to the Gulf of Maine,” said Jennifer Litterall of Rockland’s nonprofit Island Institute. “Why are they doing this if it’s so egregious to the fishermen? There are going to be fishermen who will sell out of the business forever.”

Litterall said that she advocates for a sustainable fishery in Maine that isn’t limited to lobster.

“We feel that we shouldn’t put all our eggs into one basket,” she said. “Having a one-species industry is just not a sustainable way to go into the future.”

A way that might be, Litterall said, would be for the government to shift how it regulates the fishing industry from an “allocation of days to an allocation of fish.”

But until then, increasing regulatory pressures are squeezing the life out of one of the state’s proudest traditions.

“We could get to a point in Maine where we lose all of our access to fish off our waters to provide us with a vital food source that we’ve had for hundreds of years,” she said.

To comment on the proposed National Marine Fisheries Service regulations, write to pat.kurkul@noaa.gov

acurtis@bangordailynews.net

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