Sep 18, 2015 8:21 PM
SEABROOK - Those connected to the fishing industry say that federal restrictions on what they can catch is killing business.
Cod and haddock off the coast of New Hampshire are carefully monitored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Due to a significant decline in the fish population, commercial and recreational fishermen have been strictly limited to the amount of fish they can bring in.
But for locals working on the seacoast, they say there isn't a problem with the fish population, and these restrictions are hurting their businesses, as well as others connected to them.
"It affects the local economy," said Captain Don Ringwood of Yankee Fishermen's Cooperative. "People aren't going to come down and go fishing. People aren't going to come down and buy fish. They're not going to stay in motels. They're not going to go to restaurants."
U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte held a round-table discussion on the topic in Portsmouth on Friday, where she said she is troubled by the NOAA restrictions.
"I am deeply concerned with the federal regulations that are impacting both commercial and recreational fishing businesses," Ayotte told the crowd. Two representatives from the NOAA, Dr. Bill Karp and Regional Administrator John Bullard, were present.
Les Eastman, a recreational fisherman, told the NOAA representatives the regulations are crazy.
"You said the fishermen are in peril. Absolutely. Commercial, recreational, 100 percent. But the fish are not in peril. Your science is wrong," Eastman said. He reported that there are more fish than ever off the New Hampshire coast.
Commercial fisherman David Goethel complained that NOAA spends money to transport stranded seals to Florida, and save turtles from freezing off Cape Cod. He suggested these efforts are a waste of money, and NOAA should instead fund At-Sea Monitors, which now cost local fishermen approximately $700.
Bullard struck back, using a Portsmouth Press Herald article where Goethel said NOAA hides the truth.
"You're quoted as saying NOAA fisheries lies for a living, then one sentence later you say they don't care, that they'd be happy if the fishery closed," Bullard said. "You just don't have a clue about what motivates us, and as far as the fact that you think we lie for a living, I think that says more about your credibility than it says about ours."
Tensions in the room rose, and Goethel responded, "Well, let's have it out right now."
"I think you lie for a living. Bureaucrats in general, in government, not just NOAA, across the board..." Goethel started.
"Bureaucrats in general?" Bullard interrupted.
"Yes, they do not tell the American public the truth a lot of times," Goethel replied. "You say you don't have the money to pay for a service. I believe that's a lie. I think you have the money. You've got a $30 million budget."
"Maybe you have to fire some of your employees, just like hundreds and hundreds of fishermen have been fired," Goethel said, and then finished.
Ayotte was able to get both sides to agree to work together on some issues, and she promised to continue to work for local commercial and recreational fishermen.
You can follow Kimberley Haas on Twitter @KHaasNH1.
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