On November 25th, the New England Fisheries Management Council (Council) will hold a public hearing from 6-8 p.m. at the Radisson Hotel in Plymouth, Massachusetts to review a proposal to 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 the hearing and let their voices be heard.

“If this closure goes through, we will endure a whole lot more to make trips with fewer customers,” said Capt. Mike Pierdinock of the charter boat Perseverance out of Marshfield’s Green Harbor.  “It will increase travel times to fishing grounds 1 to 2 hours, and cost us 20 to 40 percent more in fuel and overhead costs.”

Capt. Pierdinock, who is also RFA’s Massachusetts Chairman, added “this will devastate the charter boat fleet and all that rely of it to make a living.”   Pierdinock’s concerns on behalf of the recreational fishing community are also being echoed by several Massachusetts legislators concerned 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.”

Earlier this year, the Council’s Recreational Advisory Panel sent a strong message to the council, unanimously opposing the proposed research area. However, a NOAA Fisheries’ analysis indicating charter boat fishing activity has been low during the last decade in the proposed closure area is being used to support the closure; and New England recreational fishermen argue that data from the Vessel Trip Reports (VTRS) does not provide an accurate picture of fishing activity.

“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.”

“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 Fisheries 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.”

Donofrio went on to charge what he calls “showroom environmentalists” for helping destroy the New England groundfishery in a few short years.  “All the criticism leveled against fishermen by folks at Environmental Defense Fund, yet they were the ones who were able to do in just 4 years what fishermen in New England couldn’t do in 400 years, and that’s to destroy the fishery.”

RFA has often criticized the ‘catch share’ and individual fishing quota (IFQ) schemes proposed by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) who helped spearhead the flawed system in New England just a few short years ago.  The sectorization and IFQ mechanisms put in place at the urging of EDF ultimately allowed large-scale trawlers to buy up enough local IFQ to strip-mine nearshore waters of cod.

“The flawed catch share system has resulted in the poor status of the cod fishery that was at sustainable levels approximately 3 to 4 years ago,” said Pierdinock who explained how the proposed Stellwagen Designated Habitat Research Area (DHRA) closure would come within one of the last areas that are accessible to the for-hire fleet that provides fruitful levels of cod and other bottom fish.

“Until the flawed catch share system is modified there will continue to be a lack of fish at Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary,” Pierdinock added.

The public hearings will be held starting November 24th in New Hampshire, and will continue through January 7th in Portland, Maine, with other meetings occurring as far south as Virginia.

Click here for the full schedule of meetings.