Panel approves 10 percent cut for lobster hauls in local waters

The multistate panel that regulates coastal Atlantic fisheries on Wednesday approved a 10 percent reduction in the number of lobsters that can be harvested from southern New England waters, including Long Island Sound.

The reduction, which will take effect in 2013, is aimed at helping to rebuild depleted lobster populations. The action was taken by the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commissions' American Lobster Management Board, which met this week in Boston.

Future actions could include steeper harvest reductions and reducing by 25 percent the number of traps that can be fished.

The purpose of the proposal for steeper future reductions is to "scale the fishery to the size of the resource," Toni Kerns, senior fisheries management planning coordinator for the commission, said Thursday. The southern New England lobster population has been below what fisheries experts consider a healthy level for that last decade.

Mike Theiler of Waterford, a lobsterman who keeps his boat in New London, said he can live with the 10 percent reduction but fears steeper cuts would put many of the remaining lobstermen out of business. He said past steps taken by the commission to rebuild the population have served only to hurt fishermen while not effectively increasing lobster numbers.

"The bottom line is that no one wants to see the lobsters come back more than us," said Theiler, who is vice president of the Connecticut Commercial Lobstermen's Association.

The 10 percent reduction is the latest in a series of steps taken to try to rebuild the fishery. Statewide there are about 130 active lobstermen, substantially fewer than before the decline in the lobster population.

Kerns said the panel agreed that the reduction must be achieved by closing the fishery for parts of the year or by increasing the size at which lobsters can legally be harvested. By Dec. 24, Lobster Conservation Teams from various parts of the southern New England fishery will be required to submit specific plans for achieving the reduction to the commission. Connecticut and New York state regulators will develop the plans for the Long Island Sound area.

At a September hearing in Old Lyme, lobstermen told Connecticut's representative to the commission that if the 10 percent reduction were approved, the fairest way to achieve it would be to close Long Island Sound waters to commercial lobstermen for the month of June, or for September and October.

Theiler said the economic impact on lobstermen, those who work for them and the business they generate for the state should be given more consideration in the council's decisions.

He and other lobstermen, Theiler said, will be meeting with U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, in the coming weeks to appeal for help in ensuring that the fishery is not ultimately driven out of business.

j.benson@theday.com

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