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July 11, 2013

NOAA eyes lifting closures — with mandated monitors

NOAA officials, saying they want to provide relief to fishermen dealing with a federally declared “economic disaster” and 2013 fishing year cuts of up to 78 percent in their landing limits, have formally launched proposals to open portions of previously closed fishing areas in the waters off Cape Cod and Nantucket.

But the proposal — which is now open to public comment — comes with some strings attached, notably a requirement that any fishermen accessing newly opened areas cover the cost of on-board monitors who must accompany every fishing trip inside those regions.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced its proposal Tuesday to open some areas to groundfish fishing that have been off limits for nearly 20 years.

NOAA spokeswoman Maggie Mooney-Seus said Tuesday that the areas that would be opened under the change would includes parts — but not all — of Areas I and II and the Nantucket Light Ship area.

Mooney-Seus said NOAA will be taking comments on all sides of the issue for the next “month or so,” then will look to address any issues and move forward.

“The goal is to get this done as fast as we can this year,” said Mooney-Seus.

She and NOAA officials, including Gloucester-based Northeast Regional Administrator John Bullard, emphasized that the openings would affect only portions of the closed areas, while Mooney-Seus said closures on another key area — the inshore Western Gulf of Maine off the Maine coast — will not be eased at the request of both commercial and recreational fishermen.

“That’s to protect spawning cod,” she said.

The need to explore opening new areas — which will grant fishermen access to groundfish stocks that NOAA officials see as healthier — comes in the wake of limits that took effect May 1 and that cut limit for landing many groundfish stocks by more than 50 percent, including a 78 percent cut in the limits on Gulf of Maine cod.

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