Local charter fishermen are criticizing proposed federal regulations that they fear could curtail their efforts to land cod in the Stellwagen Bank area of Massachusetts Bay, officials said.
Stellwagen Bank Charter Boat Association president Charlie Wade said the regulations could close a 73-square-mile area of the ocean to the hook-and-line ground fishing that “defines this area.”
Closing the area is one possible option being considered by the New England Fishery Management Council, a spokeswoman said.
“What people don’t seem to understand is that we are in a very, very preliminary stage,” spokeswoman Patricia Fiorelli said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “These are only some of many options.”
The regulation is one part of a broader package of fishing regulations that the council, which submits fishery management plans to the US secretary of commerce, is slated to vote on at a meeting next week in Danvers before taking the rules on a tour of New England ports, seeking public input.
Wade said charter fishermen make money by taking customers out into the bay on their 25- to 30-foot boats, where the anglers can try to catch ground fish such as cod and haddock.
Currently, cod fishing is banned in the 73-square-mile zone for 5½ months a year, from Nov. 1 to mid-April. When the spring cod season kicks off, fishermen rush there, said Wade.
Some of the nearly 200 licensed charter captains in Wade’s association take customers out during other seasons in search of shark, striped bass, and tuna. But for others, cod fishing accounts for 90 percent of their annual trips, said Wade.
Closing the area “would be cutting off a chunk of local profits,” Wade said. “Customers come from far and pay for hotels, gas, and other things. This would cut out most of that.”
Wade also said charter boats would have to go farther from land in search of cod, which could be potentially dangerous.
The proposed regulation calls for the area to be used for research, said Fiorelli, the council spokeswoman, noting that even if it were approved, it would not go into effect until the fall.
After public hearings in coastal communities, officials will create a final draft, which will be voted on in September or October, said Fiorelli.
Wade said he was aware the proposal was still at an early stage, but wanted to make sure fishermen knew of its potential impact on the industry.
“We’re just trying to elevate awareness,” he said.