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

April 15, 2011

NEW LONDON, Conn. - Thirty-five years ago this week, Congress passed a law to rebuild depleted ocean fish populations. Today, experts say it has produced positive results along New England shores.

Peter Baker, Northeast Fisheries Program manager for Pew Environment Group, says there has been plenty of fine-tuning of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), with multiple amendments over the last three-and-a-half decades. However, the result is that many fish, once in danger of disappearing from Atlantic waters, are now back to healthy population levels, he says.

"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 over-fished condition to now, where there's more haddock in New England waters than we've ever seen before."

Baker says some of the cod and flounder stocks are making a comeback as well, but he warns that people must continue to limit the amount of fish caught each year, to ensure there will be a sufficient supply for years to come.

Before the Act was passed in the mid-1970s, he says huge foreign fishing boats used to troll United States' waters.

"The Magnuson Act made those big, foreign ships leave our waters, out to 200 miles, and it 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 weaken the current law, however, he believes 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're looking at here."

In addition, a lot of New England fishermen are employing new ways of marketing, such as taking their catch directly to consumers. He notes the fishermen are typically paid more – and the consumer knows who caught the fish, and where it came from.

Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service - CT