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State Opts for New Fisheries Plan

BOSTON - Massachusetts intends to draw up its own management plan for groundfish (flatfish) in a bid to move the federal government away from its days-at-sea system. The industry has suffered from the regime which has proved inefficient said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles.

He believes the decision for an independent management strategy will avoid conflicts and improve the sustainability of the groundfishing industry.
The plan is to supplement long-term proposals for re-regulation in 2009 with "more immediate and urgent changes in the next round of federal New England Fishery Management Council meetings this spring.

The Patrick administration hopes to have better luck with this than it did in February 2007 when it asked US Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez to declare a "fishery resource disaster" in the Massachusetts groundfish industry in the wake of harsh new federal fishing restrictions.

“The Massachusetts groundfishing fleet, and the communities that depend on the fleet for their economic vitality, have suffered unduly from federal fishing restrictions that have also failed to achieve the goal of reviving fish stocks,” said Secretary Bowles. “Working with Governor Patrick and our state legislators, our congressional delegation passed budget amendments to provide some financial relief in the short term. But the federal regulatory system needs to be fixed for the long term. The time is ripe to develop a regulatory regime and infrastructure that protects the fishing economy along with the natural resource in collaboration with our federal partners.”

Already, the fishing industry is working to develop alternative methods of managing fishing effort to limit catch, reduce bycatch (accidental catch of non-target species, often leading to mortality of regulated species), and maintain economic viability. Under a “sector” approach, fishing industry representatives are working to create a system that provides more flexibility. Sector-based approaches set quotas based on scientific monitoring and allow fishing vessels to trade fish catches as long as the sector stays within the overall quota. In addition, several other jurisdictions (states and other countries) have experimented with innovative forms of management that deserve exploration.