PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — A group of New England fishermen has proposed an alternative to tough federal restrictions on cod fishing, saying its plan would protect smaller boats that fish closer to shore, the group’s attorney said Monday.
The proposal by the Gulf of Maine Fishermen’s Alliance comes in response to new restrictions on cod fishing in the Gulf of Maine, which stretches from the waters off Maine to the northern tip of Cape Cod, Mass., said Beverly, Mass., lawyer Stephen Ouellette.
The restrictions were adopted two weeks ago by the New England Fisheries Management Council, which said the entire codfish supply was in danger from overfishing. The new restrictions would take effect May 1 and aim to reduce the total catch by 63 percent.
The alliance supports the council’s attempts to restrict the total codfish catch, but believes the burden of saving the fishery would fall too heavily on the inshore fleet, Ouellette said.
“The inshore fleet is basically being shut down,” Ouellette said. “Most offshore boats can move around easily to accommodate those closed areas, but smaller and older inshore boats … that are used to landing smaller quantities of fish more frequently, that’s very difficult.”
The council’s three-year plan would permanently close Jeffrey’s Ledge, an area that extends from about 20 miles offshore to 40 miles out, from Portsmouth, N.H., to the area just north of Cape Cod Bay.
It also would include “rolling” one-month closures from March through June. The rotating closures would affect waters from the shore to 35 miles out, starting just north of Cape Cod and extending north to the tip of Maine. The daily catch would be limited to 700 pounds of cod.
Jeffrey’s Ledge is the area where inshore fishermen, who usually make daily trips close to home, do nearly all their fishing, Ouellette said.
While most inshore fishing areas would be closed under the council plan, big boats that take longer trips would be allowed nearly unlimited cod fishing in offshore waters from Cape Cod south. They would be allowed to catch 3,000 pounds of cod per day, up to 30,000 pounds per trip.
The alliance plan would eliminate the permanent closure of Jeffrey’s Ledge, but would extend the rotating one-month closures to about 50 miles out to cover some offshore areas, Ouellette said.
In addition, boat owners would be required to get a cod permit either for inshore or offshore fishing. Those taking advantage of the higher catch limits from Cape Cod south would not be allowed to fish in coastal waters in the Gulf of Maine. And those choosing an inshore permit would not be allowed to fish in offshore areas, Ouellette said.
The alliance plan is supported by both the inshore and offshore fleets and boats with different types of gear, from gillnetters to hook fishers to draggers, Ouellette said.
Council members have said they are willing to consider the alliance plan as long as it would meet the government’s targets for reducing the codfish catch in the Gulf of Maine.
The alliance will meet Feb. 4 with the council’s scientific advisers, who will help them determine if they can meet the government targets. Then the council’s Groundfish Advisory Committee will look at the plan, Ouellette said.