BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Deval Patrick asked the U.S. commerce secretary Friday for emergency increases in fish catch limits, saying a new report by state scientists justifies them.
Fishermen have argued that federal regulators set limits so low on some protected species that their fishing will be shut down prematurely. Under new rules, if fishermen exceed their limit on one species, they must stop fishing for all species.
Last month, Secretary Gary Locke said he was open to ordering emergency increases in catch limits but that he needed evidence to justify them.
In the report sent Friday, scientists from the state’s Division of Marine Fisheries and the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth said Northeast fishermen could safely catch 14,500 metric tons more groundfish, such as flounder and cod.
The report said regulators have been too conservative with the buffers they build into the catch limits to make sure fishermen don’t take too much of a species. It said the buffers could be decreased without harming fish stocks.
The report also estimated that without fish limit increases, the state industry would suffer a $40 million hit in direct losses and forgone catch.
In a letter accompanying the report, Patrick said the findings show “the existence of an economic disaster” and prove Locke must take emergency action. He asked Locke for $21 million in aid for fishermen to compensate for losses he said they took switching to the new rules.
Patrick also wrote that the report provides scientific justification for catch limit increases of at least 30 percent for most species.
A request for comment to a Commerce Department spokeswoman wasn’t immediately returned.
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