Mixed Response to NEFMC Proposal to Open Closed Areas to Fishing

“There are no recovered stocks. There are only stocks that are showing signs of recovery. Why would you open these closed areas?” Tower said. “It just doesn’t make any sense.” -Tim Tower, commercial fisherman and charter boat operator from Ogunquit, Maine as quoted in the Press Herald today

Tower was responding to a proposal by the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) to open up portions of the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank to limited commercial fishing on a case-by-case basis. NEFMC develops rules for both large and small-scale commercial and recreational fisheries that operate between three and 200 miles off the coastlines of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. The areas affected by the proposal, which total over 5,000 square miles, are currently closed to commercial fishing.

Allowing some commercial fishing in these areas is an effort to alleviate some of the economic pressures on the groundfish fishery in the face of recent and substantial cuts in groundfish catch limits. In late January, NEFMC approved major cuts to the region’s cod (Gadus morhua) stocks, decreasing the overall quota for Gulf of Maine cod by 78 percent for fishing years 2013-2015. A 61 percent reduction was approved for Georges Bank cod.

In advance of the April Council meeting during which increased quotas for groundfish stock and other measures to provide additional fishing opportunities in response to the cuts in catch limits would be discussed, NEFMC Chair Rip Cunningham said, “Given the very real challenges facing groundfishermen in 2013, we have to do everything we can to help them.” Other measures considered include a 13 percent increase in white hake (Urophycis tenuis) quotas and establishing a catch limit in 2013 for Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic winter flounder (Pseudopleuronectes americanus), which the Council says could generate an estimated $5.4 million in ex-vessel revenue for the fishery.

“To cast this as something they want to do to help the poor, struggling smaller fisherman, to pretend that this is going to help the groundfishermen, it’s not very honest. In the long run, everyone is going to lose,” says Jud Crawford, Northeast Fisheries Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts Science and Policy Manager.

The proposal is now being reviewed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which plans to act on the proposal within the next to months.

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About Ret Talbot

Ret Talbot is a freelance writer who covers fisheries at the intersection of science and sustainability. His work has appeared in publications such as National Geographic, Mongabay, Discover Magazine, Ocean Geographic and Coral Magazine. He lives on the coast of Maine with his wife, scientific illustrator Karen Talbot.
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