By John Pappalardo
We are now witnessing the bitter, devastating impact to our fishing community and ecosystem caused by a single federal judge who overturned years of effort to protect our small-boat fishery and small fish crucial to the ocean’s health.
After years of effort by Cape fishermen, our community, and like-minded interests across the region, last year the National Marine Fisheries Service approved a 12-mile buffer zone, with a 20-mile bump off Cape Cod, to protect ocean herring, a vital forage fish, from mid-water trawls. This was a huge victory that many of you helped make possible with your support and public advocacy.
At the same time, this new protection would help river herring return to the streams and runs many of us cherish around the Cape.
Midwater trawl corporations challenged that decision in federal court. Earlier this year, a judge threw out the buffer, arguing that the concept of “localized depletion,” so clear and obvious to fishermen and our community, was not sufficiently proven and could not become the basis for federal regulations.
As a result, large midwater trawlers were allowed to return to fish as close as three miles to shore this month.
The New England Fishery Management Council, on which I serve, has been flooded with letters of protest. The council will be meeting again in December, and my strong hope is that we will vote to once again put this issue at the top of our priority list for next year and work on creating new language and rationales to protect our fishery, ecosystem, and the public’s resources.
I refuse to give up.
To give you a first-hand sense of what fishermen are seeing and how they’re feeling about this, take a read on this letter recently sent by one commercial fisherman to federal fisheries officials. It’s edited a bit for the sake of length, but the gist remains:
The midwater fleet descended on the northern end of Stellwagen bank when the Nov. 1 season opened and within six days of fishing legally have turned what was a vibrant area stuffed with fishes of the entire food chain to essentially a wasteland. How anyone in charge of managing fisheries could think that this type of incredibly efficient, concentrated fishing effort is a net positive for the local fisheries/economy is beyond me.
The population of bait fish, specifically mackerel, have been supporting small scale fisherman from Gloucester to Plymouth for the last six months, and that’s only speaking for this season. In today’s day and age of shifting fish populations, increased overhead, drastic quota cuts, etc. it is disheartening to see a small group of boats have such a dramatically negative impact on a large group of fisherman.
Unlike the large boats that caused this damage to the forage population, the small boat fishermen who have become dependent on this stock of fish, do not have the capabilities to travel hundreds of miles to move onto the next available populations.
I hope the council will reinstate the 12-mile buffer zone to protect this vulnerable inshore population of fish and therefore fisherman from future devastation. This will ensure that vibrant local fisheries of all types, both commercial and recreational, can continue to thrive like they were prior to this recent opening.
Once again, the Fishermen’s Alliance is asking for your help. Please send a note to the New England Fishery Management Council, using this email [email protected], and let them know you want them to make this issue a top priority this year, and once again insist that forage fish, and our historic fishing community, be protected.
Your advocacy has worked before. It can work again.
CEO, Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance