NOAA moves to open long-closed areas for fishing in New England
Last week, officials with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration approved in large part a series of recommended changes within the New England Fishery Management Council’s jurisdiction.
The changes were designed to keep the council in compliance with the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which calls on councils to review designated habitat areas and protect those areas so fish can mature and spawn.
Council members had been working on some of the changes for nearly 14 years. Public comments had been accepted on the proposal until last month.
According to the 3 January approval letter sent by John Bullard, the then-northeast regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries (Bullard retired 5 January), the council’s essential fish habitat designations and habitat areas of particular concern were all approved, as were the council’s groundfish spawning measures and both of the proposed dedicated habitat research areas.
However, NOAA Fisheries rejected two habitat management area proposals from the council’s plan. One sought to prohibit the use of ground cables and trawl vessels in Cox Ledge and would have also banned hydraulic clam-dredging in the area, located south of Rhode Island and east of Long Island. Bullard said the council’s proposal did not include enough information to show the plan would be effective.
While officials approved the removal of one closed groundfish habitat area in the eastern Georges Bank, they denied a request for a second change in the elevated seabed between Cape Cod and Nova Scotia.
“Overall, the council's recommended changes to Closed Area II and eastern Georges Bank would prevent achieving the amendment's goals and objectives, notably to improve juvenile groundfish habitat protection, and the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act to minimize the adverse effects of fishing to the extent practicable,” Bullard wrote in his letter NEFMC Chairman John Quinn.
Commercial fishermen reacted positively to the announcement, which will open some areas thought to be rich in large-sized scallops.
“With yesterday's approval of the habitat amendment, local fishermen and the Fishermen’s Alliance won a big victory for the fleet and the ocean it depends on,” the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance wrote on Twitter. “Scallopers and Alliance staff visited D.C. to speak in favor of the amendment, which has been delayed for years.”