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August 23, 2011

Stellwagen proposal seen posing new fishing limits

The head of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is preparing a proposal for an "ecological research area" that could limit recreational and commercial fishing in Stellwagen for the first time since the protected area was created off Massachusetts in 1993.

Stellwagen Superintendent Craig MacDonald has scheduled an advisory committee meeting for Thursday in Boston. And the idea that MacDonald might ask federal fishery managers to limit activity inside Stellwagen has created inordinate interest in the 9 a.m. public meeting at the New England Aquarium.

The history of Stellwagen, an 842-square-mile stretch of ocean water that extends across Massachusetts Bay and seems balanced between the tips of Cape Ann and Cape Cod, was forged by an alliance of conservation and fishing interests to create a safe haven for fishing from other commercial activities.

In the run-up to the meeting, fishermen and even members of the ad hoc subcommittee of the Sanctuary Advisory Committee say they've been left largely in the dark.

"I have zero information," said Vito Giacalone, a commercial fisherman from Gloucester who is policy director of the Northeast Seafood Coalition and one of eight members of the sanctuary subcommittee, which will be meeting for the first time.

"They did warn me don't expect details of the plan on Thursday," he said.

"None of us know very much," said John Williamson, another ad hoc committee member. Williamson is a charter fisherman in Maine and a former member of the New England Fishery Management council. "We're going to be discussing data sets."

In a telephone interview, MacDonald said Tuesday he would use the input from the subcommittee to shape a proposal for a research area inside the sanctuary to help clarify how fishing affects the ecosystem.

He said he intends to submit his proposal at the September meeting of the New England Fishery Management Council.

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