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Lawmakers call on inspector general to investigate fishing regulations

Stonington — U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both D-Conn., along with U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Second District, on Tuesday called on the inspector general of the Department of Commerce to investigate what they call an inequity in regulations that puts New England fishermen at a disadvantage.

The letter follows another that they, along with other members of Congress from Connecticut and Massachusetts, sent last month to the Department of Commerce calling on changes in fisheries management to address inequities for New England fishermen.

“We write to raise a growing concern of our constituents in the fishing industry who are facing extreme economic hardship related to the structure of fisheries management across the Northeast and mid-Atlantic,” wrote Blumenthal, Murphy and Courtney.

“On several occasions during town halls and meetings in Connecticut with many of the fishermen who operate in the state, we have repeatedly heard concerns that black sea bass, summer flounder, and scup have migrated northward, but the state-by-state allocations for these species still reflect historical numbers when they were in greater abundance in the mid-Atlantic," the lawmakers wrote.

"These outdated allocations are disadvantaging fishermen in the Northeast,” they argue.

The regulations have resulted in a situation in which boats from New England and the mid-Atlantic states can be fishing in the same waters but the mid-Atlantic boats can land much more fish because their states receive larger quotas.

The situation often requires New England boats to throw back flounder they catch while fishing for other species.

Fishermen and lawmakers have pointed out that the quota for summer flounder, black sea bass and other regulated species are set by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, even though the fish have migrated northward.

Although New England has a liaison to the mid-Atlantic council, it has no vote on that board.

In their letter to Inspector General David Smith, the lawmakers requested that his office “investigate how the current system impacts the region’s fishermen and whether the structure should be reformed to bring quota allocations in line with current data on actual fish population distribution."

"As species of fish move further north, the allocation levels should migrate with them,” the three lawmakers stressed.

They pointed out that in response to fishermen’s concerns, they have informed Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker of their support for joint management of the species between the mid-Atlantic and New England fisheries management councils.

“These outdated allocations are disadvantaging fishermen in the Northeast. Limited landings undermine their livelihoods while fishermen from the mid-Atlantic with higher quotas end up fishing in New England waters to supplement the low catch in their home states,” they wrote to Smith.

“This dynamic has environmental as well as ecological consequences,” they said.

They also asked Smith to answer several questions such as whether the current allocation process meets standards set in the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which oversees fisheries in the United States.

They pointed out the act requires that rules be “based upon the best scientific information available,” that they “should not discriminate between residents of different states” and that plans “minimize bycatch or mortality from bycatch.”


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