Recreational fishermen and the Pew Environment Group have weighed in against a potential decision to allow commercial boats to harvest from two fishing areas that have long been closed to commercial operations.
The recreational sector made its views known at a meeting of the Recreational Advisory Panel to NOAA’s regional fishery management council in Peabody on Oct. 3; the Pew Environment Group advised against opening parts of the inshore and offshore closed areas during the September meeting of New England Fishery Management Council in Plymouth.
The fishery council has asked its Plan Development Team of technicians to produce an analysis for the November council meeting of the likely implications of opening the outer slice of the Western Gulf of Maine Closed Area and large sections of Closed Areas One and Two offshore on Georges Bank.
The impetus for the council to take the tentative, but controversial step of scheduling a likely decision for November is the paucity of fish in the Northeast groundfish complex, as determined by NOAA assessments dating back to a shocking downturn in the graph tracking the recovery of inshore cod last year, and a nearly across-the-board flattening of the recovery lines on important offshore commercial stocks reported earlier this year.
Worries about the survival of the commercial fleet and its mix of many small and a few large boats convinced the council to separate the initiative for a possible opening of the closed areas from a habitat-related amendment which has been inching closer but remains beyond the immediate horizon.
The area in the Western Gulf of Maine Closed Area is about 5 miles wide and 60 miles long on the outer side of a block that runs from the tip of Cape Cod to Portland.
The offshore closed areas in Georges are much larger, and their opening would provide resource relief to fishermen, lobstermen and scallopers; indeed, Congressman Barney Frank has sardonically chastised NOAA for keeping closed areas where scallops were essentially dying of old age.