Federal court rules that New England fishery managers have shirked conservation mandate

Friday, January 4th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOSTON (AP) _ New England fishery managers have defied a congressional mandate to rebuild fish stocks, a federal judge ruled in a decision likely to lead to more severe restrictions on fishermen.

Stricter quotas, trip fishing limits and area closures are among possible new restrictions faced by fishermen who say the ruling will drive more small boat fishermen out of business, even as stocks of groundfish such as haddock, flounder and cod rebound.

U.S. District Court judge Gladys Kessler, citing the government's ``record of inaction and delay,'' agreed with conservation groups that charged in their lawsuit that government regulators didn't follow laws to restore depleted groundfish stocks.

Her ruling last Friday in Washington was released Wednesday.

The suit was filed by Oceana, a Washington-based conservation group, on behalf of several environmental groups including the Conservation Law Foundation.

Federal managers will meet with the plaintiffs on Jan. 25 to discuss how to rebuild depleted stocks, as required by the Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996, which set a deadline of November 1999 to have necessary rules in place.

The act requires fish populations to be rebuilt to levels where a ``maximum sustainable yield'' _ the most fish that can be caught without hurting the stock _ can be caught on a continuing basis.

``It would appear to me that no action is really not an option,'' said Teri Frady of the National Marine Fisheries Service, which regulates New England fisheries.

``It's another nail in the coffin,'' said Gloucester fisherman Russell Sherman. ``It makes me sick.''

Attorney Eric Bilsky of Oceana said ``short-term pain'' for fisherman may be necessary to correct the devastation of overfishing. Everyone will benefit in the long run, he said.

``We do have to pay for what we've been doing and set things right,'' he said.