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One Industry Where the Government Wants Higher Unemployment

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A groundfish population management tool that divides fishing areas into sectors has forced many commercial fishermen out of the business.

Steve Welch, a 31-year veteran, says that of 23 seamen working Sector 10 off the coast of Massachusetts, only 12 remain since the new rules took effect last May. reports:

"...the quota assigned them for the so-called 'choke species' — such as cod, yellowtail flounder, winter flounder and blackback flounder — considered among the weakest stocks in the multi-species New England groundfishery, have imposed an economic model that has proved unsustainable for these fishermen.

"'Last year I could catch 600 to 800 pounds of winter flounder on every trip,' Welch said. 'Now I have a total allocation of just 788 pounds for the year.' That represents an 81 percent cut over his landings last year. His cod allocation is down 58 percent, he said, and 52 percent for yellowtail flounder. These three species represent his most lucrative targets.

"'Our sector, as a whole, has about 1.1 million pounds of fish. But a lot of it is pollock and hake that we can't catch. To catch pollock we would have to lease more quota on cod and flounders and that costs too much money. So effectively we only have 425,000 pounds of fish to go after. That's just not enough for 23 guys to make a living,' Welch said."

Welch has taken a part-time construction job to pay the bills. He hopes that catch limits will be eased by next season, which will allow him to take to the water full-time once again.

"We sacrificed for years to bring the fish stocks back up and they have rebounded incredibly," Welch said. "Now, with more fish out there than I've ever seen, I can't catch them. I just laid off three men, all good friends. They are family men with kids. There's some hard feelings there. But I owe money on my house and boat and permits and I just couldn't keep them going. There's an ocean full of fish out there and it's being taken away from us. When you can go out, make a two-minute tow and catch 300 pounds of codfish, 15 days straight, I don't see a crisis. It just breaks my heart."
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