, Salem, MA

May 13, 2014

Our view: Putting the squeeze on recreational fishing

The Salem News

---- — For those who grew up fishing in local waters, the slow death of cherished traditions continues.

The commercial fishing fleet’s woes have been well publicized, as the federal government has changed its method for managing the fleet and has dropped the allowed catch considerably. The double whammy has led many a fisherman to give up his business.

Now it spreads to charter boats, and for ports across the North Shore, this is a serious and substantial blow. This year, new restrictions are going into place per order of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees fisheries. The new rules place various limitation on the fish caught by recreational fishermen who head out on deep-sea fishing trips.

The harder blow comes on Sept. 1, when the “closed season” begins. This is two months earlier than the prior rules had set. September is one of the best months, if not the best month, for recreational fishing in the region. The weather and temperature are often ideal for being out on the sea, and fish are migrating and active.

Charter boat fishing is a substantial waterfront business locally, employing dozens of captains and crew members.

“This is a big issue,” said veteran Newburyport charter boat captain Bob Yeomans. “We want the people who come out with us to catch fish and enjoy the day, but these regulations are going to hurt everyone.”

Yeomans predicted a financial loss of over $25,000 to his business alone. There are others who say this is the last straw for them; it will force them out of business.

There is no doubt that the stock of fish has been greatly reduced in New England’s waters. However, we question the unilateral decision made by NOAA to place these restrictions on the region’s fishing fleet — restrictions that by NOAA’s own admission are stricter than the recommendations made by the Newburyport-based New England Fishery Management Council, an organization that is designed to provide some guidance to NOAA’s decisions. But as is often the case with NOAA, the recommendations of regional boards are there to be ignored.

NOAA’s attitude toward the traditional New England fishing fleet has been on full display for some time now. Independent fishermen, who once made up the bulk of the fleet, have been squeezed out by the larger corporate boats. NOAA’s commercial fishing regulations have helped to greatly speed this process along.

Now another sector of the fishing fleet — charter boats — are feeling the squeeze. Many of them are small, local, family-owned businesses. We are witnessing another sector of the fishing fleet being quietly squashed by the federal government.

It’s long past time for NOAA to pay heed to the regional advisory boards.