Some of the harshest restrictions ever imposed on the Northeast fishing industry went into effect today in an attempt to rebuild fish populations from Maine to Connecticut. The bulk of the regulations come from a settlement agreement hammered out by environmental, government, and fishing groups. In a surprise move on 26 April, however, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., tightened several restrictions to more strongly address environmental concerns.
Fishing restrictions in this region were first imposed 5 years ago. Since then, the fish have grown more plentiful. Some species of yellowtail flounder, for instance, are recovering quickly, while cod species are only inching forward. That much is agreed on. A coalition of fishers and local governments say the new cuts go too far. Some scientists, however, say they still don't go far enough.
The new rules slash the number of days commercial fishers can operate, mandate new nets with bigger holes, and close thousands of square kilometers to fishing either year-round or during certain seasons. Judge Gladys Kessler's additions to the rules mean even fewer fishing days and more areas off-limits. Kessler said that the original agreement may not reflect emerging science, such as new estimates of what makes a healthy fish population, issued in March by the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
Fisheries scientist Ellen Pikitch of the Wildlife Conservation Society says that reducing fishing days and other new restrictions don't guarantee fish deaths will drop. Her organization maintains that the only solution is to impose quotas on how many fish of a given species can be taken. What's more, says fisheries scientist Anthony Chatwin of the Conservation Law Foundation in Boston, many of the prime hangouts for young cod fall outside the protected areas.
The Northeast Seafood Coalition, a collection of fishing organizations and boat owners from Maine to Long Island, fought the new rules even before the judge tightened them. The coalition argues that because stocks have been recovering and progressing, the science doesn't justify adding new restrictions on fishing days and areas.