NOAA's regional office has affirmed the agency's decision to impose a two-month closure on gillnet fishing in the Gulf of Maine beginning Oct. 1 due to what officials say are unacceptable levels of harbor porpoise bycatch that, to the government, showed lack of compliance with a requirement that nets be equipped with functioning "pingers."
The closed area encompasses about 2,130 square miles of prime fishing grounds north, west and south of Gloucester. Pingers, which are placed in fishermen's nets, send an audible signal designed to scare away the porpoises.
The decision to stick with the closure announced last spring came in the form of a rejection of an alternative proposal.
Presented last summer by the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, the region's largest industry group, the alternative would have reduced the length of the closure and the size of the area being closed; it also would have shifted the closure from October and November to the second half of March and April.
The decision to stand by the closures marks the first major science- and law-based action by John Bullard, who just weeks ago took over as Northeast regional administrator. Since his appointment in mid-summer, Bullard, a former mayor of New Bedford, has been on an introductory and opinion-and-fact-gathering tour of the states from Maine through North Carolina, whose federal waters are governed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Northeast offices in Gloucester's Blackburn Industrial Park.
In a letter last Thursday to Jackie Odell, the seafood coalition's executive director, Bullard wrote that he had asked the acting administrator of fisheries, Sam Rauth, to have the harbor porpoise protection problem delegated to him; since then, Bullard said, he directed his staff to see if there was a way to protect harbor seals that "could justify" modifying the "consequence" closing.