BOSTON (AP) — The Northeast's top fishing regulator said he's allowing fishermen to boost next year's catch by transferring over a portion of what they don't catch this year.
John Bullard said Thursday that fishermen may transfer up to 10 percent of their uncaught quota for species of bottom-dwelling groundfish such as cod, haddock and flounder.
The only exception is cod in the Gulf of Maine. Fishermen may transfer just 2 percent of unused quota on that species, Bullard said.
"The stock remains in poor condition and there is a high risk of exceeding overfishing limits," he said in a statement.
The carryover of up to 10 percent was already allowed under current regulations. The provision enables fishermen to wait for better weather or good prices to try to catch unused quota, rather than forcing them to rush to catch their remaining allotments before the fishing year ends on April 30.
But there was question this year about whether the carryover would be allowed, given the slate of major cuts scheduled to go into effect at the May 1 start of the 2013 fishing year. The concern was that adding more fish to the reduced limits for some species could lead to overfishing on those species.
In his statement, Bullard said, "we still have sufficient buffers in place to ensure that catches stay below overfishing limits."
And he said allowing the carryover will promote safety at sea and may give fishermen some relief from the economic impact of the coming cuts, which he has acknowledged will be devastating. The reductions include 77 percent on the limit for cod in the Gulf of Maine and 61 percent for cod in Georges Bank.
The overall catch has been down this year, and fishermen are projected to catch well short of their quotas on several species when the current fishing year ends.
As of Feb. 13, with less than a third of the fishing year to go, fishermen have landed just 30 percent of their quota on Georges Bank cod and about 52 percent of their quota on Gulf of Maine cod.
Bullard says this year's poor catch proves fish populations are struggling, and that reduced catch limits are needed to try to rebuild them. But some fishermen expect fishing to pick up during the remainder of the year, and say the down year is just part of the natural cycle.