BOSTON (AP) – Goals for restoring depleted fish stocks, which fishermen say have been set ridiculously high, could be adjusted – and possibly lowered – under a compromise approved this week by New England fishery managers.

The proposal requires regulators to study groundfish stocks halfway through a 10-year rebuilding plan and change the goals, some set at levels never seen in history, if they prove too high or too low.

The plan is one of several options the New England Fishery Management Council will consider in devising tough new fishing regulations, called Amendment 13.

But it’s the only one that addresses fishermen’s concerns about being locked into unreachable goals for population growth and is also likely gain court approval.

Tuesday’s council meeting was the last day new options for setting targets could be considered.

“We rose to the occasion,” said Thomas Hill, chairman of the council.

Gloucester fisherman Vito Giacalone said regulators’ willingness to reassess high targets is encouraging, because they also agreed to consider factors like fish reproduction, which fishermen can’t control. But he worried they’d stubbornly stick to their original goals.

“It’s pretty tough not to be really nervous about what’s going to happen in five years,” he said.

The targets are crucial because fishing restrictions for each stock are set to meet them. Fishermen say if the goals are too high, they’ll face increasingly onerous fishing restrictions as the target moves out of reach, making it impossible to stay in business.

Fishermen were outraged by the new, higher targets for groundfish stocks recently set by the National Marine Fisheries Service, saying the projections had no basis in science or history.

The goal for rebuilding Gulf of Maine cod, for instance, rose from 22,000 metric tons to 82,800. The target for George’s Bank Haddock, now at 105,000 metric tons, rose to 250,300.

The industry pushed for a peer review of the NMFS science, which recommended the kind of flexibility in setting targets the council agreed to on Tuesday.

Geoff Smith of the environmental group The Ocean Conservancy said the key to the compromise is a provision that fishermen can’t fish any harder than a rate scientists determine is necessary to keep the stock healthy. The primary concern would become enforcing the new fishing rates, he said.

The council is scheduled to submit a final version of Amendment 13 to federal regulators by November. The amendment must also gain court approval, after a December 2001 federal court ruling that NMFS wasn’t doing enough to stop overfishing.

AP-ES-04-17-03 1647EDT



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