NEW ENGLAND COUNCIL TO VOTE ON RECREATIONAL CLOSURES
Meetings Set On Proposal to Stop Anglers Groundfishing at Research Area
March 31, 2015 - On April 21 through 23, the New England Fishery Management Council (Council) will vote on the proposed Stellwagen Bank Designated Habitat Research Area (DHRA), which would close down a 55-square-mile area of Stellwagen Bank to recreational anglers. The Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) is encouraging saltwater anglers and recreational fishing and boating industry leaders to attend this final hearing and let their voices be heard. A list of voting council members can be found at www.nefmc.org
. Contact the voting representatives on the Council and indicate that you need their support to vote "NO" on the Stellwagen Bank DHRA which would close 55 square miles of prime fishing grounds to recreational fishing, by voting for the "No Action" alternative in the Habitat Amendment 2 document.
Capt. Mike Pierdinock, who is the RFA's Massachusetts Chairman, indicated that the DHRA would result in the closure of one of the last areas that are accessible to the for-hire fleet and recreational anglers that provides fruitful levels of cod, haddock and other bottom fish. "This is neither the time nor the place to consider such a closure while we struggle with a poor economy, with the existing cod closures, reduced bag limits on haddock over fewer weeks per year, and the recent reduction in the striped bass bag limit," he said.
The basis for the selection of the proposed DHRA is riddled with flawed science and inconsistencies that question the basic foundation and selection of the area for research. "We pointed out flaws in the science, and then the goal and objective of the closure changed from week to week. This has been going on for years. What is the purpose and objective of this closure if it isn't based on sound science, which is supposed to be the basis of fishery management decisions?" he continued.
Earlier this year, the Council's Recreational Advisory Panel sent a strong message to the Council, unanimously opposing the proposed research area. However, the Sanctuary continues to indicate that only five charter boats fish within this area, based upon Vessel Trip Resports (VTRs). New England recreational fishermen as well as other NOAA agencies point out that Vessel Trip Reports (VTRs) do not provide an accurate picture of fishing activity. Over 200 anglers showed up at the public meetings in Plymouth and Gloucester indicating that they fish within the proposed closure area yet the Sanctuary continues to indicate that only five charter boats fish within this area.
"VTRs only capture one location per fishing trip, even though we typically fish multiple locations on a given day," said Charlie Wade, President of the Stellwagen Bank Charter Boat Association. "The instructions ask us to report only the center point that represents all our activity on a given day. How can you possibly use that data to conclude anything about where we actually fish? Fishermen move in and out of this area on any given trip.
Concerns on behalf of the recreational fishing community are also being echoed by several Massachusetts legislators who are worried about the proposal and who have been urging the Council to consider the economic impacts of the proposed closure. "Our charter boat captains are telling us that this proposal is going to exact a heavy toll," said Rep. Vinny deMacedo, a Massachusetts State Representative from the First Plymouth District. "And decreased recreational fishing means less bait and tackle sales, fewer fishermen visiting our hotels and shopping districts, and less boats in our marinas."
"We know our recreational and commercial fishermen are laboring under enormous ecological, regulatory, and financial pressures," said Rep. Jim Cantwell of the Fourth Plymouth district. "Our fishermen are telling us this closure would just be another nail in the coffin."
"Recreational fishing plays a pivotal role in the local economy," added state Senator Robert Hedlund of the Plymouth and Norfolk District of Massachusetts. "This shutdown will be disastrous not only to the captains and crew of these boats but to the local restaurants, hotels and tackle shops. I strongly urge the council to reject any proposed closure of Stellwagen."
"NOAA is saying this closure will not greatly impact the fishing industry, but our fishermen are saying otherwise," added Rep. Tom Calter, a State Representative for the 12th Plymouth District. "We urge the New England Fishery Management Council to hear their plea and consider the impact this will have not only on the boaters' livelihoods, but on the local economy as well."
RFA executive director Jim Donofrio praised the bipartisan support from Massachusetts legislators as a key factor in the upcoming Council vote. "There should be nothing to gridlock this vote. Denying access to these fishing grounds will have a devastating economic impact on the charter/party and recreational anglers and all of the businesses that rely on this historic fishery
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