A draft reauthorization of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, circulated for comment by a California congresswoman, contains anti-fishing language that would bar commercial trawling in the nation's 14 sanctuaries — including Stellwagen Bank where the vast majority of groundfish landed in Gloucester are caught.
Stellwagen or Middle Bank, as the cod rich waters were known in the 17th and 18th centuries and still are today in the fishing world, accounts for the vast majority of the volume landed by the inshore day boat fleet.
Of that, roughly 60 percent, fishermen have estimated, is landed using trawl gear, a fast-developing technology with a hard-to-shake, bad reputation. Recent innovations include the Ruhle Eliminator Trawl, so-called for its ability to funnel out of the net unwanted species.
The elimination of trawling in Stellwagen, created in 1992, would send shockwaves through the port.
"It's all over, that's where we go," said Joe Orlando, captain of the Gloucester-based trawler Padre Pio.
Crafted in the office of U.S. Rep. Lois Capps, a Santa Barbara Democrat, the language in the "discussion draft" also launches a proliferation of sanctuaries, assigning the Secretary of Commerce to add by 2030 "a full range of the nation's marine eco-regions and rare and unique marine habitats and a full range of maritime heritage resource areas."
The draft bill, which was circulated in recent weeks for comment by stakeholders including environmental and tribal groups, commercial and recreational fishermen and academic and research organizations, have drawn intense opposition from fishing groups, which have complained to Capps' staff that the ban on bottom trawling marked a breach of faith.
As elsewhere in the system, the creation of a marine sanctuary in 1992 of Stellwagen Bank — an 842-square mile intersection of currents and updrafts to a shallow, largely sandy bottom that attracts man, boat and sea creatures — brought a explicit commitment by the government that the grounds in the sanctuary would be protected for fishing, not from it.