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Summer's Coming; How Many Fish in the Ocean for New England?

April 13, 2011

PORTLAND, Maine - A law to rebuild depleted ocean fish populations was passed by Congress 35 years ago today, and experts say it has produced positive results along New England shores.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act has undergone plenty of fine-tuning through amendments in the past 3 1/2 decades, says Peter Baker, northeast fisheries program manager for Pew Environment Group, but the result is that many fish once in danger of disappearing from Atlantic waters are back to healthy population levels.

"We've seen the scallop stock rebound from drastically low levels, to now having a very thriving fishery. We've seen haddock rebound from an overfished condition to now where there's more haddock in New England waters than we've ever seen before."

Some cod and flounder stocks are making a comeback as well, Baker says, but limits on the amount of fish caught each year must continue to ensure a supply for years to come.

Before the Magnuson-Stevens Act was passed in the mid-1970s, Baker says, huge foreign fishing boats trolled U.S. waters.

"The Magnuson Act made those big foreign ships leave our waters, out to 200 miles, and allowed the local fleet here in New England to ply the waters for fish like cod and haddock."

Baker acknowledges that protecting fish can and does have economic consequences for fishermen. Rather than weakening the current law, he says, there are better ways to help the industry.

"Taking the burden of the cost of buying a permit off fishermen by spreading that burden out on the community through permit banks is certainly an option we are looking at here in Massachusetts and Maine."

A lot of New England fishermen are looking at new ways of marketing in which they take their fish directly to consumers, Baker says. The fishermen are typically paid more, and the consumer knows who caught the fish and from where it came.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - ME