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October 19, 2004

Commercial and Recreational Fishermen Unite on the Future Management of Stellwagen Bank

Commercial and recreational fishing representatives will be attending this week’s Sanctuary Advisory Council (SAC) meeting of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS) with a shared goal to ensure that the five-year SBNMS management plan is proactive in collaborative research to inform future decision-making but refrains from rash moves to alter the SBNMS’ current fishing-friendly designation.

During the past year and a half, members of several commercial and recreational fishing industry organizations have participated cooperatively in eleven of twelve working groups convened by the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS) to develop a five year management plan for this marine area. In addition to fishing industry participants, working group members included government agencies, environmental organizations, shipping interests and whale watching companies. Representing all gear types and many of the New England ports, commercial and recreational fishermen have come together in an unprecedented demonstration of concern and commitment to contribute to this process that will determine the future management of the Sanctuary. It is their aim to ensure that the access to and the use and conservation of the myriad natural resources within the Sanctuary remain fair and equitable among its various stakeholders.

These commercial and recreational fishermen agree that:

  • The current designation charge that allows fishing in the SBNMS should be retained without amendment;
  • The National Marine Fisheries Service and the New England Fishery Management Council should retain exclusive authority to manage fisheries regulation within Sanctuary boundaries;
  • The current boundaries of the SBNMS should be maintained without modification;
  • The 400 year history of fishing on Stellwagen Bank should be prominently included as part of SBNMS’s public outreach message;
  • The Ecosystem Based Management Work Group’s Action Plan should serve as the basis for the development of the SBNMS five-year management plan. This plan strives to create a foundation upon which ecosystem-based management can be developed and implemented in the future.
  • Fishing industry members and organizations desire to be and should be active participants in all stages of recommended research projects and initiatives;
  • The SBNMS should be considered as a subset of the larger Gulf of Maine ecosystem when being assessed from scientific and regulatory perspectives;
  • Research should necessarily precede policy-making and scientifically defensible findings should be the foundation upon which these decisions are made;
  • Research and use data should be maintained centrally and should be easily accessible and comprehensible by the public;
  • and Quality partnerships and stewardship are essential to maintain the ecological health of SBNMS.

Participating fishing industry members strongly support this consensus position and keenly hope that its unified voice will be heard at all levels of government and in all stakeholder arenas. Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership (MFP) president and SAC member, Capt. Ed Barrett, said, “We hope that the SAC will support progress and use the opportunity to address issues through the consensus action plan emerging from the SBNMS’ Ecosystem Based Management Work Group.” MFP executive director, David Bergeron, said, “We are encouraged by the significant progress that has been achieved with the carefully crafted compromise coming out of the Ecosystem Based Management Work Group, but there are issues coming from other groups that need to be worked out.” For instance, proposals from several work groups, particularly that of the Marine Mammal Entanglement Work Group, are duplicative of management functions that are already provided by other enforcement agencies.

Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association executive director and SAC member, Bill Adler, said, “We should be focusing our requests for resources where they will add the greatest value. The public may ask why we are proposing a different set of SBNMS marine mammal rules when NOAA Fisheries already enforces the Marine Mammal Protection Act throughout the entire Gulf of Maine and not just inside the small area of the SBNMS. It would be a waste of public funds to replicate what is already in place and functioning well.”

SAC member representing recreational fishermen, Barry Gibson, added, “We do not believe that closing recreational fishing makes any sense, but we strongly support collaborative research that will build a better understanding of the ecosystem in the future.”

By joining forces, the commercial and recreational fishing industries have become an influential sector that is being recognized in this process. Not only have they already had a significant impact on how SBNMS will be managed during the next five years, but they have also expressed a desire to participate in ensuing research and management processes, thereby helping to safeguard their fishing way of life.