SEABROOK — Dealing what many see as the death blow to New Hampshire’s 400-year-old fishing industry, the New England Fishery Management Council voted this week to slash cod fishing limits in the Gulf of Maine by 77 percent for 2013 and extended similar cuts for the next two years.
Cod restrictions in the Gulf of Maine are widely read as the end of direct fishing for the stock that has supported the inshore, small boat fleet since Colonial times. The ruling may asphyxiate small ports like Seabrook’s Yankee Fisherman’s Cooperative, the only one remaining in the Granite State and the one that handles most of New Hampshire’s landings. Larger ports, like Gloucester, will be under unprecedented duress.
But that wasn’t the only misfortune fishing families will endure. Deliberating in Portsmouth on Wednesday, the council also voted to cut the cod allocation for the Georges Bank Grounds by 66 percent.
“This is just devastating,” Yankee’s manager Red Perkins said yesterday. “I can’t even predict what’s going to happen. We have to meet to see how cuts will affect our members. It’s just so drastic.”
When they meet, they’ll have more bad news to consider, for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northeast administrator John Bullard said the agency will require fishermen to begin carrying about half the cost of at-sea monitors on board each trip to make sure they comply with quotas. Bullard said NOAA’s budget didn’t allow the service to continue its full subsidy of between $3 million and $5 million.
All of this, coming on the heels of three years of diminishing quotas, will mean local fishermen have to determine if it’s worth leaving the dock to fish for any groundfish, like haddock and flounder.
Perkins said even those with permits to fish for other groundfish may not be able to survive. Fishermen can’t fish for only one species of groundfish at a time — when they pull in their nets, multiple species are harvested. As a result, Perkins said as soon as fishermen fill their lowest species quota, federal law dictates they can’t fish anymore, even if they have quota remaining for other species.