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Fishermen Protest New Regulations

July 12, 1998

BOSTON (AP) _ Fishery officials have proposed sweeping changes in regulations to try to restore populations of groundfish, herring, monkfish, Atlantic salmon and especially scallops.

But fishermen up and down the Atlantic coast are saying enough is enough.

Al Cottone, who owns the 45-foot Sabrina Maria out of Gloucester, said fishermen believed previous conservation measures were necessary but now question what they see as overzealous regulators.

``It wasn’t that bad because you knew something had to be done,″ he said. ``I don’t know what to think anymore. Maybe they’re trying to eliminate as many boats as they can.″

The New England Fishery Management Council is calling for a variety of measures to prevent overfishing and to restore fish stocks along the Eastern Seaboard, both requirements of the Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996.

On June 29, the council kicked off a monthlong series of hearings on the proposed rules that will take place from Maine to North Carolina. The first hearings were held in Fairhaven, a few miles east of New Bedford.

The proposed actions include requiring nets with mesh patterns that avoid any fish other than the targeted species.

The council also would create a groundfish plan that limits the halibut catch, increases the minimum size of winter flounder and prohibits ``streetsweeper″ trawl gear.

Perhaps the council’s most controversial recommendations involve limiting fishing days and closing some fishing grounds off New England’s coast to rebuild collapsed stocks.

``We’re not expecting tears of joy or happiness when we walk into the room,″ said Patricia Fiorelli, a council spokeswoman.

In New Bedford, a prominent scalloping port, fishermen are particularly riled by the plan. Because scallop stocks are severely depleted, scallopers only would be able to work an average of 77 days per boat, down from the 142 days currently permitted.

A three-hour hearing on the scallop proposal in Fairhaven drew about 75 people, mostly fishermen, according to Phil Haring, a fishery analyst with the commission.

A second hearing on the less controversial groundfish regulations drew about 25 fishermen, he said.

``I don’t think they know what they’re doing,″ Cottone said. ``Every time they lower an existing limit, or add another species, it’s another nail in the coffin.″

Recently, a regional government fisheries agent infuriated cod fishermen when he ruled they can catch only 400 pounds of cod per day, down from the previous limit of 700 pounds.

Fiorelli said such drastic measures are necessary to rebuild New England’s fisheries.

``All the jumping up and down isn’t going to put it in better shape,″ she said.

An additional 21 hearings are scheduled through July 22 in Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Virginia and North Carolina.

After the hearings, the 17-member council will vote to amend the plan by Oct. 11.

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