Sam Novello began fishing 61 years ago, when he was a wee Gloucester lad of 9 years.
Now 70, Novello may be done fishing, but he hasn’t finished going to bat for those who still ply their trade on the water.
Novello has assembled a second proposal to expand fishing for whiting off the Massachusetts-New Hampshire coast for the approximately one dozen Cape Ann boats that pursue whiting — predominantly silver hake — to mitigate the withering cuts in the allowable catch limits for cod and other groundfish.
Novello has approached the New England Fisheries Management Council about opening the small mesh whiting fishing area that spans part of Ipswich Bay up to the New Hampshire coast — also known as small mesh area 1 — two weeks earlier to take advantage of the species’ new migratory patterns.
”The whiting are showing up sooner and in heavier numbers in this area,” Novello said. “I think the area is clean and there’s a lot of whiting in there, and we’re missing the boat.”
Currently, small mesh area 1 is open for fishing from July 15 to Nov. 15. Novello would like to open the season on July 1 instead.
”What’s two weeks going to hurt?” he asked. “I don’t see why we can’t do this for 2014, or at least start putting a research boat in there, and I couldn’t even get that out of them.”
Novello said he first approached National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency staff with his idea and was told to bring his proposal to the NEFMC.
”I think they were giving me a bit of the runaround,” Novello said.
He then contacted the Newburyport-based NEFMC and said he was told no changes could be made to the area’s fishing schedule until 2015 at the earliest.
”That’s it,” Novello said. “That’s all I got.”
Not so, said Andrew Applegate, NEFMC’s small mesh multi-species plan coordinator.
Applegate said he did not shut the door on Novello’s proposal, that he instead told the Gloucester fisherman that the process for changing the regulations is a lengthy one, involving the development of new rules, the submission of the rules for review and then the actual implementation by NOAA Fisheries.
”That’s why we were talking about 2015,” Applegate said.
Applegate said he also detailed concerns over potential groundfish bycatch, particularly since whiting harvesters use a raised footrope trawl that has, in the past, been shown in some circumstances to allow significant groundfish bycatch.
Novello, however, said the groundfish bycatch is not a problem if the raised footrope trawl is rigged properly.
”Rigged properly, the trawl doesn’t go along the bottom, where the groundfish are,” Novello said. “It’s well above the bottom.”
The bigger problem with Novello’s proposal appears to be timing.
The NEFMC meets for three days in Danvers beginning today, and the primary issue of debate is expected to be over habitat — in essence, which areas of the ocean will be open for fishing in the coming years and which will be closed to help raise or at least sustain diminishing fish stocks.
Applegate said any action on Novello’s proposal could be premature or rendered moot by the council’s final decisions on habitat.
”There is overlap between some of the habitat alternatives being considered and small mesh area 1,” Applegate said.
Novello’s first proposal to enhance whiting fishing for local fishermen was contained in a Saltonstall-Kennedy grant proposal filed in late September and still awaiting review.
That proposal, assembled by Novello and three other Gloucester fishermen in conjunction with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, seeks $200,000 for research into expanding the harvesting of whiting by opening a currently closed portion of the fishery near Stellwagen Bank.
That proposal also include a marketing element to help raise the profile of whiting as a choice for seafood consumers and retailers, thereby strengthening its price to give fishermen a better return for their landings.
Currently, whiting is not a lucrative catch. Novello said fishermen clear between 70 and 80 cents per pound for silver hake, with most of the fish going to New York where it is used in subsidized food programs.
Sean Horgan may be contacted at 978-675-2714, or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT. He will be tweeting live updates from the New England Fisheriles Management Council meeting beginning today.