The New England Fishery Management Council is hosting a public meeting tonight in Gloucester as an initial step in possibly drafting an amendment that would modify the small-mesh multispecies fishery into a limited access fishery.

The meeting, to solicit public comment and gather information that ultimately would be used in the drafting of an environmental impact statement, is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the state Division of Marine Fisheries office at 30 Emerson Ave.

Currently, the small-mesh multispecies fishery, which includes whiting (silver hake), red hake and offshore hake, is an open fishery, accessible to any fisherman with the appropriate permit.

The proposal to limit access to the fishery is based in concerns “over unrestrained increases in fishing effort” in the small-mesh fishery, the council said.

“The need for the amendment is to reduce the potential for a rapid escalation of the small-mesh multispecies fishery, possibly causing overfishing and having a negative impact on red hake and whiting markets, both outcomes having negative effects on fishery participants,” council said.

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