By Marjorie Nesin
---- — 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.
Still, NOAA spokeswoman Maggie Mooney-Seus pointed to the openings as a way for fishermen to reach quotas, like that of haddock, which has gone unmet for a few years or the newly increased quota of white hake.
“The goal is to allow access into these areas in a responsible way,” Mooney-Seus said.
NOAA’s proposal is open to public comments until late July, at which time the group will move forward with attempting its implementation.
The Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, meanwhile, plans to add its comments to the mix.
Jackie Odell, executive director of the coalition, also pointed out that opening up the Gulf of Maine to commercial fishermen would serve fishermen much better than opening the areas NOAA has proposed.
“There’s really not any mitigating relief in any of these proposals for the day boat fleets,” Odell said. But, she added, “it would help the very few offshore boats that we have left.
“It would provide them with incentives to keep going offshore and fishing,” she said. “That helps the infrastructure in the port.”
While the few offshore boats still left fishing out of Gloucester might see benefit, she said, the fishermen would have to cross their fingers for a net full of haddock.
“We hope they’re going to catch a lot of haddock and get a good price for it, but we just don’t know,” Odell said.
Odell estimated that boats are only landing about 20 percent of the Georges Bank haddock quota so far this year. Redfish, however, has poured in on boats, but only selling for about 46 cents per pound on the docks.
“The stocks like redfish, it’s not an apples to apples comparison when you’re considering a reduction on cod,” Odell said.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at email@example.com.