April 11, 2013
To: NOAA Northeast Regional Administrator, Members of Congress
The New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) is recommending modifications to areas in Georges Bank currently closed to fishing as part of the upcoming Omnibus Habitat Amendment. The NEFMC is under fire from some environmental groups seeking to preserve the status quo, which isn’t in anyone’s best interest. We support the Council’s efforts, which are backed by the most current scientific data, and are essential to the economic well-being of fishing communities.
The closed area updates, included as part of both the upcoming Omnibus Amendment and the Framework 48 modification to the groundfish Fishery Management Plan, are the result of years of analysis by the Council of essential fish habitats in Georges Bank. When many of these closures were first implemented, they were designed according to then-available information on seafloor habitat. In the years since the closures went into effect, much more research on the ocean bottom has been conducted and a clearer picture of the habitats in these areas has emerged.
Working with the most recent science, the Council concluded that the habitat closure areas as currently designated are not the most appropriate for protecting habitat. Many unique fish habitats and spawning areas sit outside of the closures, and many closure areas are located on seabed that is mostly sand and gravel, features that are least likely to support unique habitats and most able to quickly recover from the effects of trawling and dredges.
The closure modifications in Groundfish Framework 48 are similarly designed to minimize the impacts of fishing on seafloor habitats, and do not alter areas that have been deemed essential for fish spawning. But by allowing fishermen to work in areas which are abundant with fish but have little habitat value, fishermen will spend less time trawling and disturb less habitat than they do currently. That will decrease the overall potential for environmental disturbances.
These proposals come at a time of economic crisis for the Northeast fisheries. In recent years we’ve seen the groundfish fleet slammed with severe quota cuts to key species like cod and yellowtail flounder. The US Commerce Department officially declared the fishery an economic disaster in 2012. Scallop fishermen are also confronting major cuts. With such a limited allocation heading into the 2013 fishing year, many fishermen could lose their jobs. Allowing reasonable access to the closed areas will provide a measure of needed relief for those whose livelihoods have been threatened by harsh new regulations.
We believe that the pending modifications to closed areas make sense both scientifically and economically. The Council’s recommendations represent the best of fisheries management: decisions made based on sound science while still considering the economic impact on fishermen and their communities. For this reason, we are writing to express our support for the Council and its recommendations on closed area modifications.