Anglers are rallying opposition before an impending vote by members of the New England Fisheries Management Council that could prohibit recreational and charter boats from bottom fishing in a popular 55-square-nautical-mile area of Stellwagen Bank in eastern Massachusetts Bay.
“If passed, this sweeping habitat amendment will be a business death sentence for scores of charter boat owners,” Stellwagen Bank Charter Boat Association president Charlie Wade said in a statement. “An even more dramatic and far-reaching result — which isn’t as obvious or immediate — is the impact on the entire region’s economy. And if people get out of the habit of coming here to fish, it will affect all of us for many years to come.”
The Fisheries Management Board is scheduled to vote during its meeting Feb. 25-26 in Danvers, Mass.
“I wish I knew,” Wade told Soundings of how he expects the council to vote. “I’ve been told, however, that the council has received hundreds of letters in opposition of any recommendation that would include the closure. And I know the Recreational Advisory Panel, which advises the council on issues that impact private recreational and charter and headboat anglers, is very much against the closure. Based on that, I can say I’m guardedly optimistic.”
Still, Wade and the Stellwagen Bank Charter Boat Association, a Marshfield, Mass.-based organization of 130 Coast Guard-licensed captains and mates operating on Stellwagen Bank and the western Gulf of Maine, seeks to preserve the fishing rights of recreational and for-hire fishing interests.
“In effect, this vote could unfairly deny public access to charter boat owners and all private boaters and fishermen who have fished there for over a century,” Wade said. “When April arrives, charter boat owners have been off the water for nearly six months due to an annual seasonal closure. Our customers are eager to return to fish for cod and haddock. Closing this area will force us further offshore, up to 30 nautical miles one way, which in April can be a real safety concern, not to mention the additional fuel costs.”