From the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance...
CHATHAM -- Ted Ligenza, captain of the Reine Marie, has known for more than 20 years that we need to make a big change, ever since he first saw the impact of big midwater trawls working off Chatham.
That day he figured he would just wait on his boat until the trawls pulled out, and then he would drop his hooks and lines on the bottom to pick up where he had left off. After all, midwater trawls were supposed to fish in the middle of the water column.
"I was soon to learn that if they are towing, nothing would be left there. They are basically catching everything," he said. "We didn't realize how bad it was going to be."
On June 19, Ligenza and many others across the Cape will testify to federal fisheries managers about how the local ecosystem has suffered from the prolonged presence of these industrial-scaled boats. They will be advocating for a buffer zone off the coast that not only protects ocean herring trawlers target, but also river herring and other forage fish that are caught and discarded as bycatch.
The New England Fishery Management Council has scheduled hearings at the Chatham Community Center, only a few miles from several herring runs that have seen populations decline. The big boats, often seen from Nauset Beach, are a familiar sight off the Cape. Many have commented on how trawlers break the local food web and remove so many baitfish that other species - cod, haddock, tuna, even whales - disappear as well.
Fishermen with the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance first started speaking out against midwater trawling near shore more than a decade ago, and have been joined by a growing coalition in recent years. Public officials from every Cape town, Barnstable County, and the region's State House delegation all support a year-round buffer, as do many environmental, scientific and civic organizations.
"Of all the issues facing us as a fishing community, protecting herring and forage fish might be the most important step we could take to rebuild our fishery and revitalize our waters," said John Pappalardo, CEO of the Fishermen's Alliance. "A strong call to action would be an important message for federal managers to hear."
The public hearing will be June 19, at the Chatham Community Center from 6 to 8 p.m. Public testimony is welcome.