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July 12, 2013

NOAA step won't aid local boats

A proposal to open portions of at least two areas previously closed to fishing in the waters off Cape Cod and Nantucket, with tight restrictions, would hold no benefit for Gloucester’s fishermen casting nets from smaller vessels and little for the few working larger off-shore boats, fishermen and others said Thursday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Wednesday its plan to open parts of some areas that have been closed to groundfishing for nearly 20 years, but added, to fishermen’s dismay, that the federal organization will require everyone who fishes there to shell out payment to carry a NOAA observer on board.

“The area they want us to fish does absolutely no good to the Gloucester and New England fleet,” Gloucester-based fisherman Richard Burgess said Thursday. “It’s not going to help anybody.”

Burgess operates a handful of 45-foot boats that, simply put, would not take the multi-day trip out to the areas NOAA is proposing opening, parts of Areas I and II within Georges Bank and the Nantucket Light Ship area.

The multi-day fishing trip required to reach the areas would mean a crew paying a NOAA observer $600 per day in hopes of returning with a heavy load of the stock. NOAA funds the observers now required to ride along on about a quarter of the fishing trips out of Gloucester, but NOAA spokeswoman Maggie Mooney-Seus said the federal administration could not find enough wiggle room in their budget to pay the observers on these proposed trips.

“The small boats, when we can fish, we’re only stocking about $600 a day anyway, and to pay an observer would just be absurd,” Burgess said.

Burgess proposed instead that NOAA ought to open the Western Maine Gulf Closure, an area with groundfish and little risk of a bycatch of Gulf of Maine cod — a quota that NOAA cut by 78 percent beginning of the new fishing year that began May 1.

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