The New England Fishery Management Council approved a motion to allow groundfishermen access to large areas off-limits to fishing.
September 27, 2012 -- Saving Seafood will post the full audio of the debate as well as audio highlights.
The following are excerpts from coverage by Don Cuddy in the New Bedford Standard-Times.
PLYMOUTH, Mass. - Sept 27, 2012 -- The areas under discussion include portions of Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine that are not considered critical fish habitat areas.
"We spoke in favor of these closed area 18 years ago," said Maggie Raymond, representing the Associated Fisheries of Maine, a coalition of 17 industry groups. "But we don't see that they have produced the desired result."
Cuts to the allowable catch for declining species such as cod and yellowtail flounder, scheduled to take effect May 1, threaten to force many fishermen out of business. Giving fishermen access to the closed areas would allow them to target other stocks such as pollock, redfish and haddock that are more abundant.
However a number of conservation groups spoke against the proposal. "We will fight this strenuously," said Peter Shelley, senior counsel for the Conservation Law Foundation who argued that the move violated the National Environmental Policy Act. "This proposal was developed explicitly to avoid environmental review," he said.
Peter Baker, fisheries director for the Pew Environment Group was also opposed, saying it would entangle the fishing industry in lawsuits that could prevent any boats from fishing.
"You'll see boats tied to the dock on May 1," he predicted.
Read coverage in the New Bedford Standard-Times
The following was released by the New England Fishery Management Council:
PLYMOUTH, Mass. - Sept 27, 2012 -- The New England Fishery Management Council today took a step in the process to approve measures that could allow groundfish fishermen to harvest healthy stocks of fish from areas that have been closed to this fishery for decades.
Explicitly, the 18-member Council voted unanimously to support further analysis of a measure that calls for groundfish sectors, a type of harvesting cooperative established in 2010, to request exemptions from the longstanding prohibition on fishing in three year-round groundfish closed areas on a limited basis. These restrictions provide that:
* Access will only be granted for the parts of areas that are not defined as habitat closed areas, or that have not been identified as potential habitat management areas currently under consideration in a habitat action that is currently in development;
* Access to Closed Area I and Closed area II (on Georges Bank) will only be granted for the period May 1 through February 15; and
* Access to the Western Gulf of Maine Closed Area (off MA and NH) will only be granted during periods not subject to rolling closures that are applicable to sectors and already specified in the Groundfish Management Plan.
Despite the vote, several Council members, fishermen and some advocacy groups voiced serious concerns about the proposal during a lengthy comment period that occurred prior to the vote. As one Council member put it, "This is not a fix-all, but a mitigation measure intended to address the low levels of some fish stocks that will be available to fishermen over the next few years."
If these and other measures receive final approval at the Council's upcoming meeting on November 13-15, 2012 in Newport, RI, the Council will submit final documents to the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Secretary of Commerce for final approval and implementation. The plan is to have the measures in place at the start of the new fishing year that begins on May 1.