Charter fishermen express concern about proposed regulation’s effect on cod fishing tours

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 completely close a 73-square-mile area of the ocean to the hook-and-line groundfishing that “defines this area.”

Closing the area is one possible option being considered by the New England Fisheries Management Council, a spokeswoman said.

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“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 today. “These are only some of many options.”

The regulation is one part of a broader package of fishing regulations that the council is slated to vote on at a meeting next Tuesday and Wednesday in Danvers before taking the regulations 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 groundfish like cod and haddock.

Currently, cod fishing is banned in the 73-square-mile zone for 5 1/2 months a year, from Nov. 1 to mid-April. When the spring cod season kicks off, fishermen rush to fish 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,” said Wade. “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 that the proposal was still at an early stage, but wanted to make sure that fishermen were aware of its potential impact on the industry.

“We’re just trying to elevate awareness,” he said.