The New England Fisheries Management Council is the regional branch of regulators tasked with implementing federal fisheries management regulations in our local federally protected waters. This past Wednesday members of the Council convened in Portland, ME for the last of a series of hearings regarding actions to be taken with open and closed areas in New England’s federal fishing waters. Designating specific “closed areas” is one way the council has regulated local fishermen in the hopes of protecting key spawning grounds for many local stocks of fish. In addition to these specified closed areas, fishermen operating in federal waters are also held to strict species-specific quota limits, many of which have reached historic lows in recent years.
As ABC News reports, comments shared at last weeks meeting and in preceding meetings included concerns from fishermen that new closures could further jeopardize their abilities to make a living in an already impossible economic climate. Preservationists on the other side of the isle argue that new closures are needed to protect dwindling fish stocks. One of the key areas up for closure is an underwater mountain known as Cashes Ledge, a key fishing ground with a diverse habitat serving as home to many fish and other key seafood species.
The official document being considered at these hearings is referred to as the Omnibus Habitat Amendment 2- which can be read by clicking here. This document is one of countless others that seek to identify, manage and protect areas of the ocean referred to as essential fish habitats (EFH), which are defined as areas that are essential to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity. As you can imagine, in a multi-species fishery, identifying and protecting these distinct areas at times can seem like an insurmountable task. Browsing over Amendment 2 to the Omnibus Habitat policy linked here can give you a fair idea how complex and difficult it is for fisheries managers to carry out some of the regulations required under the federal Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Act.
With these hearings drawing to a close last Wednesday and the opportunity for public comment ending this Tuesday, the Council will now spend several months debating and deliberating the proposed actions at hand. A vote is expected from the Council on these new closures by April.