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Collapse of New England cod fishery forces historic fishing cuts in catch rates – ‘We’re doomed, as they say’

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Desdemona Despair

By David Ariosto, CNN
31 January 2013

(CNN) – An old wooden carving known as “the Sacred Cod” hangs in the Massachusetts State House.

That figurine has stared down at lawmakers for more than two centuries as a reminder of how important cod fishing has been to New England, where generations have made a living by casting their nets out at sea.

“It’s the only job I’ve ever had,” said Al Cattone, a Gloucester fisherman, who — like his father and grandfather before him — spent more than 30 years braving the Atlantic’s rough waters and cold winds in search of fish.

“It’s not so much a job as it is an identity.”

But Gloucester, like many coastal towns, now faces the largest cuts ever to the region’s commercial fishing industry. An advisory council voted Wednesday to slash cod catch rates by 77% in the Gulf of Maine, a region roughly the size of Indiana that extends from Cape Cod up through Nova Scotia.

That move, analysts predict, is expected to decimate fishing communities across the region and have a domino effect on seafood processors, wholesalers, distributors and retailers who all make a living off the water.

“The impact will be severe,” said John Bullard, the regional administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who voted in favor of the cuts.

“It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary.”

A response to low cod stocks, the proposed cuts have left thousands wondering what they will do for work at the start of the fishing season in May.

Scores of fishermen gathered Wednesday in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to hear the vote of the New England Fishery Management Council, which has since submitted its recommendations to the federal government.

“We’re doomed, as they say,” said fisherman Dennis Robillard, whose voice wavered as he acknowledged that his boat, the Julie Ann II, is now up for sale.

“I’m getting out. It just doesn’t make any sense to me anymore.”

The council also voted to cut 55% of cod catch rates in Georges Bank, an expansive area near Cape Cod, which was named by a 17th century British explorer after discovering an abundance of the ground fish.

If approved by the Commerce Department, fishermen catch rates will drop to about 3,550 metric tons of cod in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank.

A decade ago, they could net around 20,000. [more]

Historic cod fishing cuts threaten centuries-old industry in New England


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