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Portions of Nantucket Lightship to Reopen

Contact:      Marjorie Mooney-Seus                                                     FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

                 978-281-9175/774-392-4865                                            Thursday, December 12, 2013


Areas off southern New England to re-open for groundfishing for remainder of fishing year 2013

As part of its efforts to mitigate some of the challenges facing New England groundfishermen this season, today, NOAA Fisheries announced that some areas that have been closed to fishing since 1994 will re-open. Two sections on the eastern and western side of the Nantucket Lightship Closed Area will open through April 30, 2014, the end of the current fishing year.

“We know some fishermen are really struggling, so we’ve come up with a variety of measures that on their own don’t solve the problem for everyone, but can collectively help the industry endure,” said John Bullard, NOAA Fisheries northeast regional administrator. “This measure, along with approved fishing gear modifications to target healthy groundfish stocks and quota increases on abundant fish species, should keep more fishermen on the water.”

Following requests earlier this year from a segment of the groundfish industry, known as sectors, the New England Fishery Management Council provided NOAA Fisheries with the authority to consider re-opening the Nantucket Lightship Area and two other closed areas on Georges Bank. In July, NOAA Fisheries issued a proposal to allow access to these areas for fishermen, while also maintaining protections for vulnerable fish stocks and harbor porpoise. Specifically, the agency proposed that the openings be limited in area and time, include gear restrictions, and at-sea monitoring of every fishing trip paid for by the vessel.

NOAA Fisheries received thousands of public comments and input to this proposal; the majority opposed re-opening the areas.  Many fishermen expressed concern that the cost of the required trip monitoring would effectively negate the value of fishing in those areas.  In addition, many environmental organizations commented that the areas should remain closed until a plan to preserve habitat and threats to vulnerable species was developed and implemented.

Based upon this public input, NOAA Fisheries modified its original proposal and concluded that fishermen would still have opportunities to fish if only sections of the Nantucket Lightship area were re-opened.

In order to fish in portions of the Nantucket closed area, extra-large mesh gillnets and selective bottom trawl gear will be required to reduce the catch of overfished flounders. Gillnets in the western re-opened area are also required to carry pingers, acoustic devices, which when used properly keep harbor porpoise bycatch low.

“Opening sections of this closed area won’t pose a risk to struggling stocks of cod and Georges Bank yellowtail flounder because they don’t occur there in large numbers,” said Bullard. “We are confident that groundfish catch in this area can be effectively monitored through our existing at-sea monitoring program, without having to require that every fishing vessel carry an observer. Unfortunately for the other two areas on Georges Bank, the poor condition of cod and yellowtail flounder requires more substantial independent monitoring of the catch.”

Some measures that NOAA Fisheries has implemented to date to help the groundfish industry this year include:

  • approved fishing gear modifications and adjusted trip limits to enable fishermen to better target healthy stocks of redfish and monkfish, respectively;
  • increased quota for abundant stocks of dogfish, skate, Southern New England winter flounder and white hake;
  • allowed the industry to carryover a portion of their unused 2012 allocation into the 2013 fishing year;
  • covered at-sea monitoring costs in 2013, which were supposed to be picked up by the fishing industry beginning this year;
  • reduced the minimum fish sizes for most fish stocks to turn fish that would have otherwise been discarded into landed revenue;
  • eliminated the dockside monitoring program that would have otherwise returned this year, reducing some operating costs for fishermen; and
  • collaborating with Small Business Administration and the US Department of Agriculture on various efforts to assist the fishing industry (e.g., available grant and assistance programs and seafood marketing).

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