SEABROOK — It’s been a long two months for New Hampshire’s small fishing fleet since the federal government slashed their fishing quotas.
In February, cod fishing limits in the Gulf of Maine were cut by 77 percent for 2013 and similar cuts were extended for the next two years. Cod restrictions in the Gulf of Maine were seen as a nearly fatal blow to direct fishing for the stock that has supported the inshore, small boat fleet, like New Hampshire’s, since Colonial times.
This blow, coming on the heels of three years of diminishing quotas, left local fishermen trying to determine if it was worth leaving the dock to fish for any groundfish, like haddock and flounder, or if it was time to hang up their nets permanently.
The fear was that fishermen at small ports like Seabrook’s Yankee Fisherman’s Cooperative might not survive the measure. Yankee is the only remaining fishermen’s cooperative in the Granite State and the one that handles most of New Hampshire’s landings from Rye to Seabrook.
“We have about 20 boats remaining,” Yankee’s manager Red Perkins said Friday. “Five years ago we had about 35. Over the past years, some fishermen have sold their permits. I’d say there were about eight who did that.”
Due to the severe groundfish limits, Perkins said, local boats only went out to sea about 10 days this year, and even the winter shrimp season took a beating because of further federal catch restrictions and Mother Nature. Shrimping had been a way for fishermen to augment their incomes as groundfish quotas shrank.
“They did a little shrimping, but it became a disaster because of what happened with the storms this year,” Perkins said.
As June approaches, questions arise concerning what’s to come for the local fleet.