PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Commercial fishermen in New England are facing severe cuts in their catch limits next year because of the poor condition of populations of so-called groundfish, regulators said Thursday.
Several important groundfish species are in poor shape and some catch limits for 2013 will have to be sharply reduced from this year's levels, fishermen were told at a New England Fishery Management Council groundfish committee meeting in Portsmouth, N.H.
The final numbers aren't in, but officials said preliminary information indicates that catch limits could go down by 72 percent for the cod population in the Gulf of Maine and 70 percent for cod on the Georges Bank fishing grounds east of Cape Cod.
The catch limit could go down by 73 percent for Georges Bank haddock, 51 percent for Georges Bank yellowtail flounder and 69 percent for a flounder known as American plaice.
Additional cutbacks could be devastating for the fishing fleet that goes after the bottom-dwelling fish, collectively known as groundfish. Fishermen have already faced severe cuts in recent years under strict regulations and faltering fish populations.
Maggie Raymond, who owns two fishing boats, said the cuts were described by the fisheries manager as a "crisis," something the fishing industry is familiar with.
"I've been involved in this process for 18 years and I can't think of a year when there wasn't a crisis," said Raymond, executive director of Associated Fisheries of Maine. "You can't imagine that we'd be in this position with all of the sacrifice that the industry has made."
Cuts this time around are necessary because some fish stocks have experienced several consecutive years of poor recruitment, while others continue to be overfished despite strict rules aimed at eliminating overfishing.
The full council will vote on the catch limits at its November meeting. The 2013 fishing year begins next May.
In a statement, the Massachusetts-based Northeast Seafood Coalition industry group said the 2013 outlook should serve as a wake-up call to develop new management strategies.
Simply setting catch limits isn't the answer, and it's time to acknowledge that low productivity of fish stocks is "outside the control of the law or fisheries management and we can no longer continue to destroy fishing communities in an effort to control the uncontrollable," the statement reads.
"An overhaul is required, or else there will be no groundfish fishery," the statement said.
The groundfish industry undoubtedly will be facing many challenges in 2013, Samuel Rauch, assistant fisheries administrator of the NOAA Fisheries Service, and C.M. "Rip" Cunningham Jr., chairman of the New England Fishery Management Council, said in a joint statement.
"We are committed to this fishery, to this industry, and to the people in this community," they said. "Preserving the groundfish industry is of the utmost importance to us and we'll put forward our unwavering support.
Raymond said the fishing industry isn't giving up, even in the face of more bad news. "We're going to try to figure out a way to remain viable. It will be difficult but that's what we do," she said.