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Judge asked to review new New England fishing restrictions
By Lolita C. Baldor

Associated Press Writer

26th May 2004

Two environmental groups have asked a federal court judge to review New England's new fishing restrictions to determine if the rules protect stocks from overfishing and meet guidelines set when she originally ordered the new plan.

The Conservation Law Foundation and the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a complaint filed Wednesday in federal court in Washington, D.C., said the new rules do not protect Georges Bank Cod and four other depleted groundfish stocks from overfishing.

They asked federal Judge Gladys Kessler to review the rules, known as Amendment 13, and require new protections by next spring.

The two groups were among those who filed the original lawsuit in 2001 charging that federal regulators didn't follow laws to restore depleted groundfish stocks, such as cod and flounder.

Their complaint is the second legal action filed against the new fishing restrictions, which went into effect on May 1.

In response, NOAA Fisheries Director Bill Hogarth said he stands behind the conservation measures outlined in Amendment 13. The new regulations, which scaled back the number of fishing days and closed some fishing grounds, have been an ongoing point of contention between fishermen, federal regulators and environmental groups.

"This amendment will help rebuild groundfish stocks and minimize bycatch and adverse effects of fishing on essential fish habitats," said Hogarth. "Amendment 13 is the culmination of more than four years of collaborative efforts of the New England Fishery Management Council, NOAA Fisheries, the fishing industry and other interested parties."

In their complaint, the NRDC and CLF said the new rules allow fishing on Georges Bank cod and other species that is far above levels Kessler initially wanted.

The complaint also argues that the rules will not adequately reduce fishing, particularly on cod, by using a 20 percent cut in fishing time.

"Our hope is to continue to work with everyone involved in this process," said NRDC attorney Steve Roady. "We have been putting the problems off for more than a decade and they're obviously not going away."

The order does not call for any immediate remedies or for the fishery to shut down. Last week the environmental group Oceana filed a federal lawsuit saying the new regulations don't do enough to protect the cod habitat off southeastern Cape Cod.