The deputy director of marine fisheries for Massachusetts said Thursday it is not the presence of big commercial trawlers working the shallows of Middle Bank for the season’s first wave of cod that worries him.
David Pierce said his concern is that, in the unregulated commodity trading system now in its third year, the big boats have the ability to acquire and accumulate an unlimited quantity of catch shares in Gulf of Maine Cod, and can monopolize landings in a stock whose vitality was found last year to be dramatically weaker than believed in an earlier, 2008 benchmark assessment.
The paucity of inshore cod was a pivotal element in the decision last month of the federal government to find the Northeast groundfishery had declined into economic failure.
It was Pierce who, in February introduced into the record of the New England Fishery Management Council the warning that the creation of an unregulated free market in the leasing of catch shares allocated to fishermen had opened the door for boats with big nets and holds to accumulate unlimited catch shares.
He focused his concern on the Gulf of Maine, where he said he feared the system, known as Amendment 16, would accelerate market consolidation and leave the smaller businesses watching helplessly as big boats clean up on Middle Bank and other inshore grounds, the only viable locations the smaller day boats can regularly work.
NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement, through a vessel monitoring system, reported Wednesday in response to an inquiry from the Times, that “over the past 72 hours, there have been 8 vessels of 70 feet or larger” fishing in the vicinity of Middle Bank. The Times inquiry was triggered by multiple reports from tuna hook and line and gillnet fishermen on Middle Bank that big boats from Gloucester’s Sector 2 and Boston had been pursuing the season’s first wave of cod. NOAA spokeswoman Maggie Mooney-Seus said the agency would not make public the identities of the big boats working Middle Bank.