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Sector of New Bedford fishing industry sees rapid decline

Port hit by quotas, costs

NEW BEDFORD — A plummeting number of cod, haddock, and flounder; rising fuel costs and other economic factors; and a host of government regulations account for the rapid decline in this city’s historic groundfish industry, according to a report released Tuesday by the New Bedford Harbor Development Commission.

Last year, the city’s fishermen caught $19 million worth of groundfish, about half of what they brought to shore just two years before, the report said. Between 2006 and 2013, the number of groundfish vessels operating out of New Bedford fell more than 50 percent, to 47 boats.

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“Groundfish have supported generations of Massachusetts families,” state Senator Mark Montigny, a New Bedford Democrat, said in a statement. “Poorly implemented federal regulations have failed to protect our ecosystems, but succeeded in crippling our fishing fleet.”

The report, which calls for new technology to survey fishing stocks, also urged the government to reform its quota system and other regulations that govern fishermen.

Much of the decline came after a 2010 assessment of cod estimated there were 26 million pounds of the region’s most storied fish in the Gulf of Maine, 19 percent of what scientists view as necessary for a healthy population. Last year the New England Fishery Management Council cut the catch limit of Gulf of Maine cod by 77 percent from the year before and the US share of Georges Bank cod, whose stock is shared with Canada, by 55 percent.

The quotas have combined with rising fuel costs to deepen the pain for fishermen. The average cost of a trip for a groundfish vessel 75 feet or longer tripled to nearly $30,000 between fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2012.

Fewer trips and reduced catch have meant an estimated 164 fewer fishing jobs. Fifty firms that supplied products or bought fish from New Bedford fishermen ceased between 2003 and 2013, resulting in 227 lost jobs between 2010 and 2012, the report said.

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.
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