Proposed Rules Cut New England Fishermen’s Days at Sea

Under proposed interim rules for the 2009 fishing year that starts May 1, New England fishermen would have their days at sea cut again.

The National Marine Fisheries Service on Wednesday announced the proposed rules and was expected to publish the details in the Federal Register today.

If approved, fishermen face an 18 percent reduction in the number of days they are allowed to fish. The average fishing boat is already down to 48 after years of gradual cutbacks.

In addition, boats fishing in an expanded area of the Gulf of Maine would use two fishing days for each actual day at sea.

The combination of rules effectively means the average fishermen would have only 20 fishing days this year.

The cutbacks are an effort to rebuild fish populations before a federal deadline in 2014.

U.S. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine, issued a written statement blasting the proposal and vowing to oppose it.

"I am appalled and profoundly troubled that the agency would even consider the draconian measures contained in this proposed regulation, much less actually present them as a viable solution to the current crisis in the groundfishing industry," said Snowe.

The proposal also drew criticism from the Pew Environment Group, a conservation organization.

"This interim rule will not solve our problems, and may well cost many of the region's fishermen their livelihoods. The time for a new approach has come," said Peter Baker, manager of Pew’s End Overfishing in New England campaign.

NMFS said the proposal also includes changes to help fishermen stay in business, such as increasing catch limits on white hake and decreasing the minimum legal size of haddock.

The proposal is intended to be an interim measure until a New England fishery advisory panel can complete a new set of rules, known as Amendment 16, scheduled to go into effect May 1, 2010. The public has 30 days to comment on the new proposal.


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