New England clammers seek to reverse council decision to close parts of Nantucket Shoals

Published on
January 14, 2019

Clammers in New England are taking action in an attempt to reverse a fishery management council decision to close parts of Nantucket Shoals they say is crucial to their business.

When their boats go out to harvest clams, they’re also taking high resolution video and images of the surface below to show their fishing areas are not key habitats. They’re hopeful the pictures will help them in their effort to continue fishing in an area that accounts for between 50 to 80 percent of their business, according to Scott Lang, an attorney representing them.

“We intend to work very closely with the government over the next several months to provide as much data as possible so they can review the decision that they made,” Lang told SeafoodSource. “Because they made a decision in the dark. Now, we’re going to shine some light on it to see if we can get it resolved.”

Last April, the New England Fishery Management Council implemented new boundaries within the Nantucket Shoals that would allow surfclam fishermen to continue fishing within specific areas of the region. In addition, the use of bottom-tending gear was banned within boundaries, but clammers received a year extension. 

Last month, the council voted to restrict access to two areas in the Shoals for research purposes only. That means that as of this April, clammers will not be able to fish there unless NOAA Fisheries decides not to approve the council’s decision.

Officials in New Bedford, Massachusetts, said the council’s decision could impact 500 families in the area whose livelihoods depend on the clam fishery, according to an article in South Coast Today.

Janice Plante, a public affairs officer for the council, said the NEFMC won’t reconsider its December action. However, it will continue to work with researchers, fishermen and other key stakeholders to prioritize research needs within the areas currently set aside solely for research.

“Once prioritized research needs are identified for Rose and Crown and Zone D, the Council’s intent is that fishermen and researchers will work collaboratively toward obtaining exempted fishing permits for these sub-areas to better define where concentrations of surfclams can be harvested without disturbing sensitive habitat,” an NEFMC release stated last month. “The Council said this research potentially could lead to the development of additional exemptions in the future.”

Lang said his clients “are not in a frame of mind” to take the matter to court, saying they would hope to resolve this issue in another fashion. However, they won’t rule out filing a lawsuit, if necessary.

Photo courtesy of NOAA

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