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May 16, 2012

Charter captains describe big-boat cod raids

WAKEFIELD — Big offshore draggers using their own and acquired catch share allocations have worked inside Stellwagen Bank for the past year — where they'd not been seen before — depleting a rebuilding stock of Gulf of Maine cod.

That was the testimony Tuesday from more than a dozen charter boat captains during a day-long meeting of the New England Fishery Management Council's Recreational advisory panel meeting held at a hotel complex in Wakefield.

A federal fisheries analyst also confirmed the presence, though not the impact, of the Stellwagen draggers.

Additional new fishing pressure on inshore cod stocks has come through boats operated by members of the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association longlining in Stellwagen, some charter skippers also told the panel.

The advisory panel reports to the council's Groundfish Committee, which will be involved in deliberations into 2013 to develop a new rebuilding program for the most important fish stock for the recreational sector and the inshore commercial fleet based in Gloucester and found in small ports along the entire coast of New England.

"This is the most troubling situation that I've ever had to deal with," said Capt. Barry Gibson of Boothbay Harbor, Maine, chairman of the Recreational Advisory Panel and who served on the council for nine years through 1995. "Ninety-foot boats (in Stellwagen) and no trip limits."

The boats were identified as hailing from New Bedford, Gloucester and Maine.

"There is some evidence that the big vessels moved inshore," Tom Nies, a federal fisheries analyst, told the meeting.

The catch share regimen introduced in May 2010 for members of commercial fishing cooperatives called sectors replaced the previous system based on days-at-sea and trip limits, with allocations of stocks that can be accumulated — acquired or leased — and no upper limit.

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