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October 11, 2012

Cod war returns to Middle Bank

A large number of big commercial trawlers — 70 feet or more in length — from Gloucester and Boston have been drawn this week to the nearby inshore grounds of Middle Bank in pursuit of the season’s first pulse of cod, combing areas that are the usual domain of smaller, independent day boats from multiple ports, several sources told the Times Wednesday.

The reports were confirmed by NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement, vessel monitoring section.

“Over the past 72 hours (3 days), there have been 8 vessels of 70 feet or larger with possible fishing activity in the vicinity of Middle Bank,” said NOAA spokeswoman Maggie Mooney-Seus.

The majority of the big trawlers — described by eyewitnesses as continuing to fish as of Wednesday — was said to be registered members of Sector 2, the fishing cooperative made up of more than 40 Gloucester-based boats. Most of them are of a size that limits their range to day-boat fishing, but Sector 2 also includes six big “trip” boats, which have the scale to allow them to work the offshore grounds of Georges Bank.

The Sector 2 manager said he had no information about the whereabouts of his boats, but said that, at times, they have worked inshore.

The cod the big boats were chasing on the inshore grounds was described to the Times as a relatively small pulse, but the first of the season.

Middle Bank, a shallow section of Stellwagen Bank, is less than an hour’s steam from Gloucester, Boston and the small ports along Massachusetts Bay, and the primary locale for dayboat fishing for cod primarily.

But since the advent in May 2010 of catch share fishing, predicated on the trading of allocated fishing rights between gear types and boat sizes — allowed to members of sectors or fishing cooperatives — the taking of inshore cod by offshore boats has been a persistent theme and complaint by dayboat fishermen that the only available source of their harvest and income has been subject to plunder by boats of a much larger scale.

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