BOSTON (AP) -- New England fishermen and their political allies rallied at a Boston fish pier Monday to make an urgent call for relief from deep and imminent cuts to their catch limits.
As of Wednesday's start of the 2013 fishing year, fishermen who chase bottom-dwelling groundfish — such as cod and flounder — will absorb a series of cuts that regulators acknowledge will be devastating, and fishermen say will ruin them.
The worst of the reductions is a year-to-year cut of 77 percent in cod in the Gulf of Maine while the catch limit for cod on Georges Bank will be cut 61 percent. Regulators have said the cuts are mandated under the nation's fishing law because key stocks are in bad shape and recovering too slowly.
But fishermen question the science behind the cuts, saying it's too unreliable to use as a basis to bury the centuries-old industry. They note that they've fished within the limits recommended by science for a decade, and things have only gotten worse.
Gloucester fisherman Vito Giacalone said "years of sacrifice, forced reinvestment and compliance with every catch limit should not be rewarded with bankruptcy and apathy."
"By continuing to knowingly sacrifice fishermen and their shore side support businesses while we wait for science to catch up to the realities of this ever-changing ecosystem, we are destroying the future of our fisheries," said Giacalone, policy director of the Northeast Seafood Coalition, who was joined by scores of other fishermen at the rally.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren called for federal disaster relief, arguing Washington should be as quick to respond to a disaster for fishermen as it is to respond to disasters that strike farmers.
"A disaster is entitled to relief, and that's true whether we're talking about crops or whether we're taking about fish," Warren said. "Washington rushes in to help our farmers. Washington needs to rush in to help our fishermen."
Among the lawmakers joining Warren was fellow Democrat, interim U.S. Sen. William "Mo" Cowan, and members of the state's all-Democratic U.S. House delegation, including U.S. Rep. John Tierney and U.S. Rep. William Keating.
Besides disaster relief, fishermen and their political allies are pushing NOAA to extend an emergency interim measure enacted last year, which would significantly reduce the size of some of this year's cuts.
But the Northeast's top regulator, John Bullard, has said extending the emergency measure is not only illegal, but also ill-advised because fish stocks are in such poor shape that tough measures are needed for them to rebound.
He adds the science indicating stocks are struggling is backed by the 2012 catch, which was significantly down on several species around New England.
Since announcing the cuts, NOAA has pushed ways to ease the hit on fishermen, such as allowing them to carry over a portion of their uncaught 2012 quota or allowing them to catch more of the healthier fish stocks.
"We are continuing to work with fishermen, federal agencies and others with an interest in preserving this industry to identify other ways to help fishermen find a bridge while stocks rebuild," said Bullard, who attended the rally.
Associated Press writer Jay Lindsay contributed to this report.