Fishing interests take their case to feds in New Hampshire

New Bedford Mayor Scott W. Lang addresses a room of 75 during Tuesday night's New England Fishery Management Council meeting at the Sheraton Harborside Portsmouth Hotel in Portsmouth, N.H.Ioanna Raptis/Portsmouth Herald

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — New Bedford Mayor Scott W. Lang and his fishery advisory council Tuesday took their case for relief from stringent groundfishing regulations straight to the decision-makers at the New England Fishery Management Council.
The presentation, down the hotel hallway from the New England council’s three-day regular meeting, attracted an audience of 75 people representing virtually all segments of the commercial fishing industry in the Northeast.

Also on hand were representatives of four U.S. senators and six congressmen from fishing states, state Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, and four members of the New Bedford City Council: Joseph Lopes, Steven Martins, Linda Morad and John Saunders.

New Bedford and Gloucester are leading the scientific, political and legal charge to persuade or force the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to raise catch limits within the scientific margin of error and stop the dismantling of the fishing industry and its infrastructure.

Most, if not all, of the NEFMC members attended to hear the city’s case much as it was presented in a meeting Jan. 13 in New Bedford. The presentations arose from Commerce Secretary Gary Locke’s letter to Gov. Deval Patrick that entirely rejected the governor’s scientifically justified plea for increased catch limits along with economic help for struggling boat owners and their families.

The only representative of environmental groups that strongly influence fisheries policy came from the Pew Foundation, and she was briefly booed during introductions.

Gloucester was included this time around, with Vito Giacolone relating the effects of Amendment 16 of the Magnuson-Stevens Act in that struggling port.

Pete Ramsden, fourth-generation owner of Foley Fish in New Bedford, employer of 85, said that as a small businessman he is closest to the individual fishermen and that he fears for the next generation.

Fishermen who have restrained themselves and rebuilt the fish stocks “deserve a ticker tape parade in Boston, not more bureaucracy and forms,” he said.

He said the best value for everyone is fresh fish landed in the ports rather than factory ships processing, breading and freezing fish for distribution around the world.

The Portsmouth meeting coincided with a letter from environmental groups sent Tuesday to Locke praising his decision not to increase allocations for the Northeast fishery.

The letter lavished praise on Locke, saying New Bedford and Gloucester are leading the charge to persuade or force NOAA to raise catch limits. It then addressed the political atmosphere, saying, “We note with regret the highly charged and polarized political context around federal fisheries management in New England, and the particularly unfortunate tone that has been injected into this important civic discourse.

“We appreciate the professional demeanor and objective consideration of the issues that NOAA and NEMFS staffs have displayed throughout this process.”

The letter was co-signed by people from 10 nonprofit environmental organizations, including the Conservation Law Foundation, Pew Environment Group, Marine Fish Conservation Network and Oceana.

“All of them are funded with tax deductions,” observed Robert Vanasse of Saving Seafood, an industry public relations firm. “None of them is profit-making enterprise.”

Steve Cadrin, of the UMass School of Marine Science and Technology, who was involved in producing the governor’s scientific argument for Locke, explained the determination of fish stocks and the way in which “pessimistic” federal regulators allegedly overreached and set unnecessarily low catch limits.

“We should go back and reconsider this decision,” he said. He said there were factual errors “and lack of understanding of the logic” in Locke’s understanding, and that the four-person scientific panel never presented alternatives to the council, in violation of the laws governing the process.

“These decisions were made before guidelines were understood,” he said.

“At that time they could not understand the implications of the guidelines.”

Locke “misunderstood the factual and logical errors” in the Amendment 16 decisions. “This is a national issue and we are going to take this national,” Cadrin said.

Most of those in the room had not previously directly heard Cadrin’s scientific case, including the members of the fishery management council.

Ray Swenton, a UMass Dartmouth graduate who operates a fish processing plant in Portland, Maine, that employs 74, said the allocations have reduced Portland’s fleet to near collapse, which he expects in a year or two if nothing changes.

“The Portland Fish Exchange in a couple of years will be out of business,” taking with it the multiplier effect that the industry paychecks will mean to the local economy, he said.

Paul Diodati, director of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, applauded the processors for attending the meeting, an unusual circumstance. And he implored the audience of fishermen: “Don’t give up on New England. We have the best fisheries and will have the best fisheries management programs serving you.”
January 26, 2011 12:00 AM

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