September 16. 2013 9:48PM

NH joins fishing limits lawsuit against Commerce secretary

Union Leader Correspondent

PORTSMOUTH — The state of New Hampshire has joined a lawsuit filed by Massachusetts against the United States Secretary of Commerce and other U.S. officials challenging new catch limits on ground fish.

Gov. Maggie Hassan said the limits are “placing one of our state’s oldest and most treasured industries at grave risk and undermining an important sector of our economy.”

Hassan and New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph Foster announced the decision to intervene Monday. The original lawsuit was filed in May.

Gulf of Maine cod catch allotments were cut by about 77 percent year over year through 2015. The cuts took effect this past May. Similarly, large cuts were made to Gulf of Maine haddock catches.

As a result, New Hampshire’s commercial ground fishing fleet was reduced to 14 boats this season, New Hampshire ground fishing sector manager Joshua Weirsma said on Monday — down from 24 last year.

“I think it’s good that New Hampshire recognized how important cod is to our industry and we’ve been really struggling as a result (of the cuts),” Weirsma said.

The lawsuit claims that in addition to threatening the extinction of the ground fishing industry, the new frameworks are in violation of the national Magnuson-Stevens act governing fishing regulations nationally.

“We’d like to at least have a sustainable level of fishing ... and have a little more time to get more information and develop better science,” Weirsma said.

New Hampshire’s Congressional delegation has also spoken out in support of the industry.

In July, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, spoke out against the cuts during a Senate subcommittee meeting addressing reauthorization of Magnuson-Stevens. In August, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, visited the commercial fishing pier in Portsmouth to learn more about how the New Hampshire industry is trying to adapt to the cuts by focusing on under-appreciated, more abundant species.