February 11, 2016 — NOAA Fisheries will hold an informational workshop next week in Gloucester that could serve as the first step in potentially acceding to the requests of local fishermen to modify the access and fishing schedule in the exempted whiting areas.
The meeting is open to fishermen and potential research partners and is scheduled for Thursday from 10 a.m. to about 3 p.m. at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s regional offices in the Blackburn Industrial Park.
“We’re really viewing this as the first part of the discussion,” said Mike Ruccio, a supervising fishery policy analyst at NOAA Fisheries. “We want to try to gather everybody together in one place and tackle this a little more holistically.”
Local fishermen, led by longtime fisherman Sam Novello, have been working for more than a year to convince NOAA to change the permitted gear and expand the access and fishing season for the whiting exempted areas — most notably the Small Mesh Gear Area 1 in Ipswich Bay.
Currently, that area is open for whiting fishing from July 15 to Nov. 15. Novello and other Cape Ann fishermen would like to see that fishing season expanded to open earlier and close later.
Ruccio said the workshop will provide an overview of the fishery, including the whiting exemption programs and the extent of regional Director John K. Bullard’s authority to make the changes sought by fishermen.
He said the workshop also will include discussions on possible bycatch and stock assessment issues, as well as identifying potential funding sources and research projects necessary to produce the data that ultimately would be used to determine if the changes sought are even feasible.