GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Fishing Industry Stories

September 27, 2012

NOAA backs off gillnet closure

Plan aimed toward saving porpoises

Overruling his bureaucracy, NOAA regional administrator John Bullard on Wednesday announced a decision to shift to February and March a shutdown of the inshore gillnet fishery that was aimed at reducing harbor porpoise losses in bycatch.

The shutdown was to start Oct. 1 and last through November.

Immediate losses to three dozen vessels working out of ports from New Hampshire to along the Massachusetts Bay were projected to be $2.6 million, half that from the revenues of Gloucester-based boats, according to an economic analysis presented at the end of July by the Northeast Seafood Coalition, the region’s largest industry organization.

The move in closure dates to next year should ease the economic impact on a fleet at the center of a systemic fisheries failure, declared days ago by the Commerce Department, by allowing gillnetters access to pollock. Pollock typically come through the inshore waters of Massachusetts Bay, including Stellwagen Bank and the Gulf of Maine, in the autumn, said Richard Burgess, president of the fishing cooperative Sector III, a group of 36 Gloucester-based gillnetters.

“This is going to allow us to catch a larger proportion of our pollock quota,” said Burgess. “(Bullard) listened to the fishermen who know there are more harbor porpoises around in February and March than October and November.”

Bullard reversed his own detailed, written position of Sept. 6, which was based on the research and recommendation of the Harbor Porpoise Take Reduction Team. Theteam includes government scientists, fishermen, academics and environmental organizations.

The reversal grants the fishing industry, which had congressional support, most of its argument and accepts its alternative plan to protect harbor porpoises.

The fishing industry agreed to modernize and expand the use of pingers, which project a pinging sound audible to porpoises to warn them of the nets that are their undoing.

Bullard, however, refused to reduce the size of the area from which the gillnets will be barred to give the porpoises safe travel.

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