BOSTON (Reuters) - Members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation have asked the federal government to declare a disaster for New England fishermen and fishing communities, given prospects for catch limits to be lowered again in 2013.
Their request followed a preliminary report from the New England Fishery Management Council last week that said commercial fishing quotas for several key bottom-dwelling species, or ground fish, would probably be reduced "markedly" next year after being cut in 2012.
Authorities continue to raise the alarm about over-fishing in the once-abundant waters of the Gulf of Maine and on the Georges Bank off the New England coast. Lawmakers, in turn, want to support a local industry.
"For the past two years, the New England Congressional delegation and New England governors have pushed the federal government to issue a disaster declaration," U.S. Senators Scott Brown and John Kerry said in a joint statement with Congressmen Barney Frank, John Tierney and William Keating.
"We believe the evidence is now overwhelming in favor of such a declaration."
The fishery council report said that cod and yellowtail flounder caught in the Georges Bank, located in the Atlantic Ocean east of Massachusetts' Cape Cod and south of Nova Scotia, would probably need to be reduced by an estimated 70 and 51 percent, respectively, in 2013.
The Gulf of Maine cod and haddock catch would need to drop by 72 and 73 percent, respectively, yellowtail flounder off Cape Cod and the Gulf of Maine by 51 percent, and American plaice harvests would need to fall by 69 percent.
The Massachusetts delegation requested disaster assistance to the fishermen and fishing communities, as well as a meeting to review the science, allocation process and options for their fishing communities.
In response to the report, the Northeast Seafood Coalition, which represents commercial fishermen in the region, has called for "workable solutions" to sustain the industry.
"There are much larger forces at work in the Gulf of Maine and on Georges Bank than just controlling fishing mortality or preventing overfishing on an instantaneous basis," the coalition said. "We can no longer continue to destroy fishing communities in an effort to control the uncontrollable."
(Reporting By Joseph O'Leary; editing by Ros Krasny and Dan Grebler)