Fishermen Urge Regulators to Establish 50-Mile Buffer Zone for Herring Trawlers

CHATHAM – Local fishermen and elected officials from across Cape Cod strongly urged fishery managers Tuesday to impose a strict 50 mile buffer zone for mid-water herring trawlers.

At an overflow meeting in the Chatham Community Center, they said the vessels are wiping out the herring, negatively impacting the local fishing industry and related economies.

The New England Fishery Management Council is considering changes in the rules that govern the trawlers and has been taking comments at various ports around New England.

Deirdre Boelke, a senior fishing analyst with the council, said regulators are trying to find a way to create an “acceptable biological catch.”

She said part of the challenge is looking at measures designed to not harm others involved in the fishery.

“Amendment 8 includes a wide range of options,” she said. “These rules affect how much catch is allowed in the fishery every year.”

Regulators are looking at 10 alternatives.

Boelke said one of the concerns they’re evaluating is what’s called “localized depletion.”

That’s the reduction of population size, independent of the overall status of the stock, over a relatively small spatial area as a result of intensive fishing.

Alternatives include extending the prohibition of mid water trawlers gear at varying distances, ranging from 12 to 50 nautical miles.

Every person who gave testimony Tuesday night supported a 50 nautical mile buffer from the coast.

Some alternatives being considered have seasonal and spatial limitations, while others alter when certain areas are closed to the herring fishery.

The council has not settled on an alternative.

Public comment on Amendment 8 ends on Monday. They will eventually be compiled and recommendations made.

Final action will take place in September with potential implementation in May 2019.

Chatham Town Manager Jill Goldsmith delivered a statement from her town’s board of selectmen, which called for the 50 mile restriction.

The statement said the Chatham community depends on a vibrant fishery that is being greatly harmed by the trawlers.

“For years we have expressed concern about the impact mid water herring trawlers have had on forage fish,” Goldsmith said.

“We have seen decades of decline. The lack of forage fish has driven the cod offshore, too far for many small boats,” she said.

They advocated pushing the fleet 50 miles off shore.

Orleans Selectmen Alan McClennan said mid-water trawlers are breaking the food web.

“We support a no fishing zone that protects the near-shore fishing grounds,” he said.

Mashpee selectman and Association to Preserve Cape Cod Executive Director Andrew Gottlieb said both the groups he represents are in favor of the 50 mile buffer zone.

“The herring fishery and what it represents is deeply interwoven into our community…people understand the building blocks of the food web,” Gottlieb said.

Rob Bergstrom, Chatham’s representative to the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates, referred to the battle fought 30 ago against the international factory trawlers.

Those boats were scooping up tons of herring close to shore before the federal government imposed a 200-mile limit for the foreign vessels.

“The council should take as aggressive action as possible,” Bergstrom said.

Chatham fisherman John Our spoke passionately about what he said has been the collapse of the fishery in recent years.

“The people that are left in it today are the survivors,” he said.

Our called the vessels “bottom trawlers,” not mid-water trawlers.

“They (mid-water trawlers) don’t a give a damn about ground fish,” Our said, telling stories of how he personally saw pollock and cod floating dead on the surface after they got caught up in the trawler’s fishing nets.

“When they make a mistake, it harms the Cape. It effects small boat fishermen primarily 30 miles from the beach,” Our said.

Other fishermen said they’re on their last legs and action needs to be taken immediately.

By MATT PITTA, CapeCod.com News Director

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