PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – New England fishermen say their centuries-old industry is facing collapse after regulators on Wednesday approved cuts in cod catch limits that fishermen warn will hollow out what remains of the fleet.
“I’m bankrupt. That’s it,” said Gloucester fisherman Paul Vitale, 40, a third-generation fisherman. “I’m all done. The boat’s going up for sale.”
The New England Fishery Management Council approved a year-to-year cut of 77 percent on the Gulf of Maine cod limit and 61 percent for Georges Bank cod. The move is expected to be backed by federal managers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Fishermen who chase the region’s bottom-dwelling groundfish, such as cod and flounder, say the cuts are unjustified and leave them with far too few fish to catch to make a living.
“We are headed down the wrong course here, of exterminating the inshore fleet, for no good reason,” said David Goethel, a New Hampshire fisherman and council member.
NOAA’s top federal fisheries regulator, John Bullard, acknowledged the cuts will be devastating, but he said tough action was the only way to reverse the industry’s steady, excruciating decline.
“The first thing we have to do is put denial behind us,” he said.
The new low limits on cod reduce the catch to just a fraction of what it once was and prevent fishermen from landing more plentiful species, such as haddock and pollock. That’s because fishermen can’t pull up the healthier groundfish without catching too much of the cod that swim among them.