BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — New rules restricting fishing on the waterfront are raising concerns among local fishermen about their historic access to the area.
The Beverly Harbor Management Authority voted 7-1 recently to limit fishing to a section of Glover Wharf and the end of the public pier. “No fishing” signs were scheduled to be put up earlier this month.
The committee chairman, Paul Earl, said the new rules are designed to balance the needs of recreational boaters, commercial boaters, fishermen and members of the general public who want to use the waterfront, which is in the midst of millions of dollars in upgrades.
“Our goal is to use this small space to the benefit all four constituencies,” Earl said.
But some say the new rules put too many restrictions on fishermen, who for years have fished at various locations on the waterfront.
More than 700 people signed a petition asking the Harbor Authority, a volunteer board that oversees the waterfront, to allow fishing on a section of the recently renovated platform behind the old McDonald’s building, where a Black Cow restaurant is scheduled to be built.
The Harbor Authority granted the petitioners their wish. But Steve Lotito, the owner of Al’s Bait Shop across the street from the waterfront and the person who started the petition, said he’s worried that fishermen are being squeezed out as the waterfront is developed.
“There’s still less access than there was,” Lotito said. “They still have a lockdown on the whole waterfront over there. They just don’t seem to understand how important fishing is to a lot of people.”
Until now, fishing has been largely unregulated on the city-owned section of the waterfront, an area near the Beverly-Salem bridge whose neglect is symbolized by the former McDonald’s, which has been mostly empty since it closed two decades ago.
The city has taken several steps to improve the area in the last few years. With the help of nearly $4 million in state grants, the city has completely refurbished its recreational marina and is about to do the same to its commercial marina, the base for commercial fishing and lobstering crews.
The city has also repaired the seawall, redone the platform behind the McDonald’s building, and put up light poles on the platform and public pier. It plans to construct a new dock alongside the pier and to make the end of the pier handicapped-accessible to allow for tour boats.
All of the work is in advance of what would be the biggest change, the building of the city’s first waterfront restaurant.
Joseph Leone, who owns Black Cow restaurants in Hamilton and Newburyport, has a deal to build a restaurant on the city-owned McDonald’s site. Construction has been delayed for years by a legal challenge from the adjacent Beverly Port Marina, but the city is expecting the project to get final approval soon.
With all of the improvements and a hoped-for influx of people to the waterfront, the City Council last year passed an ordinance that for the first time allowed the city to restrict fishing and casting to certain areas.
Ward 1 Councilor Maureen Troubetaris, who is a member of the Harbor Management Authority, said the city has to balance the rights of fishermen and boaters who rent space at the city-owned marinas. Fishermen casting from the pier and platform have broken the windshields of boats and entangled their fishing lines in motors, she said.
“It’s always been an issue, but we decided to put it into law so the police can have something to enforce,” Troubetaris said. “The intent is not to stop any fishing. We respect their rights. But people also pay a few thousand dollars per year to put their boats down there.”
Lotito portrays the issue as a “David vs. Goliath” battle over public access, with the loose fraternity of recreational fishermen as the underdog against city officials and affluent boaters.
“I’m fourth-generation Beverly. I grew up on the waterfront,” Lotito said. “We’ve always had access, and they keep constricting it off more and more.”
Lotito acknowledged that his petition asked for fishing access only for a section of the platform, and that the Harbor Authority agreed to it. But he said people should also be allowed to fish from the Ferryway dock and that the 10 p.m. curfew for the pier should be lifted.
Earl, the Harbor Authority chairman, said the board is willing to be flexible. When the public walkway is extended under the bridge later this year, he said, that area will be open to fishing.
“In my opinion,” Earl said, “we’re doing this to make this area better for all the citizens of Beverly.”
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or email@example.com.