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Some better news for haddock, and fishermen

The New York Times

THE GLOOMY clouds hanging over New England’s fisheries lifted a bit last week when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that several species were no longer overfished off US shores, including haddock in the Gulf of Maine. Better still, NOAA also reported that the number of threatened US stocks was at its lowest level since the federal government began compiling annual reports in 1997. The number of rebuilt stocks since 2000 is now up to 37, including butterfish found from Cape Hatteras up to the Gulf of Maine.

While some New England species, including cod and yellowtail flounder, remain subject to severe catch limits, the report by NOAA provides hope that some of the world’s toughest management regulations are making a difference — and they might keep fishing a viable regional industry for decades to come.


Regardless, a battle continues between the fishing industry, environmentalists, and regulators as to the extent that some types of fishing affect the ocean floor’s ecosystem. In a new effort to study those impacts, the New England Fishery Management Council is expected to vote Thursday on creating a 55-square-nautical-mile reference research area. Most of it would be in the Stellwagen National Marine Sanctuary, where commercial fishing and other mobile bottom gear, such as scallop dredges, are already banned but recreational fishing is allowed.

The research area would be closed to all bottom-type fishing so scientists can compare over the next several years whether the habitat recovers faster in the absence of fishing than in adjacent waters, where recreational fishing would be permitted.

The proposed closure accounts for only 16 percent of a larger designated research area, according to fishery council calculations, but is being protested by recreational fishermen from Gloucester, Boston, and the South Shore. The area is a popular destination, and the restrictions would likely force charter boats to travel more than the current 30 miles offshore. The cost of burning extra fuel to fish elsewhere would be unfortunate, but if the science on fishing is to keep improving, the closure of a small part of the sea should be approved.


As the news out of NOAA last week showed, hardship in the short term can lead to longer-term results that benefit fishermen and the environment.