BOSTON — Deep cuts in catch limits will hit New England’s fishing fleet in less than three weeks, and there’s little hint any real relief is coming. But regulators and fishermen are still seeking ways to lessen a blow fishermen warn will finish them off.
In recent months, federal regulators have pushed several measures that aim to give fishermen more fish to catch by the May 1 start of the 2013 fishing year. Meanwhile, fishing groups and lawmakers are lobbying for changes that would make year-to-year cuts in the crucial Gulf of Maine cod species less severe.
As time grows short, Gloucester’s Al Cottone said he and his fellow fishermen seem to be facing the future in a sort of “state of shock.”
“Everyone’s in denial. They still think, you know, someone’s going to come in on their white horse and save us,” he said.
The 2013 catch limit reductions come as science indicates key populations of bottom-dwelling groundfish — such as cod and flounder — are weak and recovering too slowly.
In January, regional managers approved a broad slate of cuts in catch limits to rebuild fish stocks, including a 77 percent year-to-year reduction in catch of cod in the Gulf of Maine and 61 percent in the catch of cod on Georges Bank.
Fishermen predict the range of cuts will kill the centuries-old fleet, while regulators acknowledge industry upheaval is ahead.
The cuts follow a down 2012 fishing year that’s seen fishermen catch well below their allotments on several key species.
That’s proof, some have argued, that the fish are in trouble, and it also shows the coming cuts might not be as brutal as feared.
For instance, the 61 percent year-to-year cut on the quota for Georges Bank cod doesn’t look as harsh when the total allotment for the cod in 2013 is still more than fishermen are on pace to catch this fishing year.