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Hooked on a New Fish Quota System

May 2, 2011

DENNIS PORT, Mass. - The first year of a new commercial fish quota system in New England came to an end this weekend, and some small boat fishermen say they are hooked on it. Under the controversial sector management system, fishermen formed co-ops called sectors and shared limits on over-fished species like cod and flounder. Rather than limiting their number of days at sea, fishermen could set their own schedules. With no daily limits on catch amounts, the number of discarded fish was reduced.

Greg Walinski of Dennis Port, captain of the Alicia Ann, says with a laugh that his revenue has gone up under sector management.

"We were all complaining about it but over time you realize it's the way to go."

Walinski says he can't speak for other fishermen, and in fact, opposition persists. Some fishermen think they didn't get a large enough allocation. And some Massachusetts elected officials have sued in federal court to scrap the plan.

However, Walinski thinks it will succeed over time, and he praises one of the benefits in particular: Daily catch limits used to result in a lot of legal-sized fish being thrown overboard. Now, he says, such discards are way down.

"Once some of these other groups get some time under their belt with the sector system, they're going to grow to appreciate it, because no one wants to throw fish away."

A group of Massachusetts officials led by U.S. Senator John Kerry is suggesting rolling over this year's uncaught fish quota to next year.

However, Peter Baker of the Pew Environment Group says the Northeast Fisheries Science Center would have to weigh in first.

"Now, if the Science Center determines that this can be done without setting back the rebuilding of these stocks that have been over-fished in the past, this would be an opportunity for fishermen to make more money next year."

Greg Walinski, who has 30 years of fishing experience, is pleased his revenue is up, and he credits the new system, which lets him fish new grounds.

"New areas have opened up for me. So, it's basically just kind of put my business back in the black."

Initial reports from the first eight months showed prices paid fishermen rose eight percent over the previous year. Walinski says his biggest problem now is the price of gasoline to fuel his boat.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - MA