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Group urges cap for fish caught accidentally

Two commercial fishing zones off Massachusetts are among the nine dirtiest in the country, an advocacy group has found in a report slated for release Thursday.

The culprit, according to the advocacy group Oceana , is bycatch — or the fish and ocean wildlife that commercial fishermen are not targeting but that end up in their nets.

According to the report, nine US fisheries, including two off Massachusetts, are responsible for more than half the nation’s reported bycatch. These fish are often discarded at sea, “likely already dead or dying,” creating the dirty effect, the report says.


Oceana contends that bycatch is “one of the most significant threats to maintaining healthy marine ecosystems.”

The two Massachusetts-area zones are the Northeast Bottom Trawl Fishery, where more than 50 million pounds of fish are thrown overboard each year, and the New England & Mid-Atlantic Gillnet Fishery, where more than 2,000 dolphins, porpoises, and seals were caught in nets as bycatch in 2010, according to Oceana.

A spokeswoman for the New England Fishery Management Council, the regulatory body that oversees commercial fishing in the affected zones, declined to comment since the council had not had a chance to review the report in detail.

Gib Brogan, Oceana’s fisheries campaign manager, said Wednesday night that the organization culled its data from a recent report released by the National Marine Fisheries Service, a federal agency responsible for managing and protecting marine life.

Oceana is recommending that federal regulators set limits on bycatch to reduce the amount of non-targeted fish that are ensnared.

Angela Sanfilippo, executive director of the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership, criticized that proposal.


“The first word I can think of is, they’re crazy,” said Sanfilippo, who also heads the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association.

She said area fishermen are already working under strict regulations that require them to bring their entire haul into port. She deemed bycatch “fish that if you bring it to the market, you cannot sell it . . . because people are not educated enough to undertsand that all of the fish in the ocean [are] good. It’s all good protein.”

Sanfilippo added, “You cannot go fishing for just one type of species. When fishermen go fishing, they catch all types of species together.”

But according to Oceana, other possible remedies include seasonal closures of certain areas where bycatch is problematic and limiting the length of time that nets are allowed to remain in a given place, as well as encouraging the use of equipment with the lowest bycatch rates.

“We’re not looking to put anybody out of business,” Brogan said, adding that the group is advocating ways to better manage fishing gears.

Fishermen in Massachusetts and elsewhere in New England have objected in recent years to reductions to US catch quotas and other regulatory changes, contending they are crippling the industry.

In January 2013, fishing advocates strongly objected when the fishery management council voted to reduce the catch limit of Gulf of Maine cod by 77 percent from the prior year and the US share of Georges Bank cod by 55 percent.


One industry group said the changes would “result in decimating reductions that will be life-altering for all segments of the fleet.”

But Oceana says that bycatch, if left unchecked, will also harm commercial fishing.

“Bycatch in the US could amount to 2 billion pounds every year, equivalent to the entire annual catch of many other fishing nations around the world,” the report states, adding that bycatch “undercuts the economic success of our nation’s fisheries.”

Oceana says the other dirty fishing zones are located off the mid-Atlantic coast, the eastern coast of Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, California, and the southern coast of Alaska. Two of the locations have two dirty zones each.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.