As fishermen face drastic cuts in cod limits, NOAA eases monkfish restrictions

Bill Duffy, a scientist with the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, hoists a monkfish on the fishing vessel Endurance during this spring's research trip in the Gulf of Maine.
Courtesy of Northeast Fisheries Science Center/NOAA
Bill Duffy, a scientist with the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, hoists a monkfish on the fishing vessel Endurance during this spring's research trip in the Gulf of Maine.
Posted Feb. 25, 2013, at 5:50 a.m.
Last modified Feb. 25, 2013, at 9:32 a.m.

NOAA Fisheries has announced proposed measures that would loosen controls in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank on monkfish, which is seen as a lucrative alternative to groundfish and often is caught by Gloucester groundfishermen and other New England groundfishermen.

The proposed “temporary emergency action ” would suspend existing monkfish possession limits for vessels issued both a groundfishing permit and carrying a days-at-sea monkfishing permit. The proposed action, published in the Federal Register, would last at least 180 days, but could be extended if the total allowable landings are not surpassed.

The expansion of the total allowable size of the landings in monkfish from the waters east of New England to the transboundary line in Georges Bank that separates Canadian from American waters is 271 tons. With 2013 total landings allowed in the area set at 5,854 metric tons, the liberalization would represent a 4.6 percent increase.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projected revenues from the increase of between $661,000 and $1.9 million. The vast majority of monkfish caught in the waters of the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank is landed in Gloucester and New Bedford; monkfish tails are high priced and taste somewhat like lobster.

The easing of monkfish regulatory mandates, however, comes as the Northeast groundfishery is facing dramatic cuts in limits for the landing of Gulf of Maine cod and Georges Bank cod — two of the New England fishery’s iconic harvesting catches — for the 2013 fishing year that begins May 1.

Despite challenges by the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, the New England Fishery Management Council and a number of federal lawmakers from across New England and New York, NOAA Notheast Regional Administrator John Bullard has stuck to his stand that NOAA cannot, under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, extend the current interim 22 percent cut in Gulf of Maine cod catch for a second year, so more dire cuts of up to 77 percent are being allowed to take hold — cuts that, given the likelihood of cod hailed up in bycatch from other stocks, will prevent boats from targeting any cod at all, many fishermen and officials believe.

In announcing the easing of the monkfish regulations, NOAA’s Northeast Division office, headed by Bullard and based in Gloucester’s Blackburn Industrial Park, indicated that “nearly 75 percent of vessels participating in groundfish sectors also have limited access monkfish permits.”

“These vessels are limited to landing a smaller incidental amount of monkfish unless the vessel declares into the directed monkfish fishery and fishes under both a monkfish and groundfish day-at-sea on the same trip,” the NOAA statement indicated. “In recent years, the monkfish fishery has failed to fully harvest the total allowable landings for each year, particularly in this management area.”

The action came in response to a request for the changes by the New England Fishery Management Council.

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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