February 26, 2014
The scallop fishery has become the lifeblood of the New Bedford waterfront, a bright spot in a fishing industry encumbered by onerous regulations and heavy-handed management. It has helped make New Bedford, for the 13th year in a row, the most valuable port in the nation. But, with potential cuts to the scallop catch anticipated next year, scallopers and fishing communities coast-wide face the prospect of diminished revenues and loss of stability to the scallop industry.
One way to prevent this is to finally allow the scallop fleet access to historic fishing grounds in Georges Bank, particularly in the Northern Edge, from which we have long been cut off. We have an opportunity to re-evaluate these closures with the Omnibus Habitat Amendment, considered on Tuesday by the New England Fishery Management Council.
For almost 20 years, large sections of Georges Bank have been closed to commercial fishermen and scallopers, part of a larger management effort aimed at protecting habitats and limiting overfishing. When the closures were put in place, it was thought that by keeping fishermen and scallopers out of these areas, juvenile groundfish, particularly cod, would benefit from undisturbed access to the area's gravel habitat, which was thought to be beneficial as a source of food and refuge from predator species. Unfortunately, little empirical evidence has emerged since the closures were enacted to demonstrate positive benefits have arisen from these regulations.