What’s going to happen with these Closed Areas? I think it’s going to be a big New England question soon. These Closed Areas have been off limits to most fishing (dragging and dredging especially) since the mid-’90s. But now there’s talk about what to do with them. Do they stay, do they go? Who decides?
Over the next few months I’m going to blog about Closed Areas and Marine Protection Reserves, mostly in New England, but also in the Bahamas, as a contrast–why Closed Areas might be more essential protecting a coral reef than a piece of silty bottom south of Nantucket.
Digging deeper into this subject I hope to find some interesting questions. Questions about compromise and value. For instance can someone living on Cape Cod care about a piece of seafloor that he or she may well never visit; care deeply about the animals that live there but draw little benefit–if any–from them. What’s the value of this kind of care? How is that measured and how is that figured into the management process?
These Closed Areas are different than Yellowstone National Park. For the most part they are far offshore. The total opposite of backyard birding. I don’t think hundreds of whalewatch boats are going to steam 180 miles to go looking for a whale. They certainly aren’t going to make an observation platform with spotting scopes, a snack bar, and an info board out in the Nantucket Lightship.
I want to find out the worth of one of these Closed Areas? How much money in sea scallops is within it? How much codfish? Flounder? What’s the volume–how many?
And also: what’s the value of that scallop left alone to spawn and make more scallops verse the value of the scallop at a New Bedford fish pier.
I do know that some of these Closed Areas are piled high in sea scallops. The scallops are huge, their meats have gone gray. Many are dying of old age. To a fisherman, this doesn’t make much sense. They want to get in there and harvest, harvest the scallops before they die. A dead scallop is simply money left on the bottom.
But, ultimately, it’s not simple. None of these decisions are. Many people think the Closed Areas should never go away. Many people think they should be lifted, fishing allowed; that because of Closed Areas, the surrounding seafloor has gotten pounding on by fishing effort. The scallop and groundfish resource is weaker outside the Closed Areas. But the boats have no other choice but to keep pounding away on the “line.” With the weaker fishing, fishing boats have to make longer and longer tows. That means their fishing gear is in contact with the bottom, basically around the clock. Therefore, if the boats we given more access to the Closed Areas their nets and dredges would be “on the bottom” far less–because they would catch more on a much shorter tow. This idea of efficiency is actatually good husbandry. Drilling away with a bottom trawl or scallop drag on a beat piece of bottom is not.
All of this is highly complicated. Many think it shouldn’t be. I think the answers to the confusion will be with compromise. But the trouble is: who ultimately decides. Who decides, for instance, what user groups get to fish inside the Areas, and what ones don’t. Who decides if some of the Closed Areas turn into full-blown Marine Protection Reserves?
What role does fleet size play? Everyone in New England knows that the commercial fleet is getting smaller and smaller. To a manger a small but highly efficient fleet is easier to manage than a large one. Once the fleet size gets small enough then these Closed Areas might well be obsolete. But at what cost to the smallboat operator?
Stay tuned as I search New England for the right people to talk to–one hundred pros, one hundred cons of Closed Areas in New England.