Cape Fishermen Concerned About Midwater Trawling

Public hearing scheduled for June 19

By ecoRI News staff

CHATHAM, Mass. — Ted Ligenza, captain of the Reine Marie, has known for more than two decades that big changes are needed, ever since he first saw the impact of big midwater trawls working off the Cape Cod coast.

That day, according to the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, 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 are 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 told the fishermen’s alliance. “We didn't realize how bad it was going to be.”

On June 19, Ligenza and others across Cape Cod are expected to 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 protects the trawlers’ target, ocean herring, as well as river herring and other forage fish that are caught and discarded as bycatch.

The New England Fishery Management Council has scheduled the hearing at the Chatham Community Center, only a few miles from several herring runs that have seen populations decline. Industrial trawlers, often seen from Nauset Beach, are a familiar sight off the Cape Cod coast. Those concerned about the trawlers’ presence have noted how these ships break the local food web and remove so many baitfish that other species — cod, haddock, tuna and whales — also disappear.

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 Cod town, Barnstable County and the region’s Statehouse delegation all support a year-round buffer, as do many environmental, scientific and civic organizations.

Rhode Island fishermen have also been outspoken about out-of-state trawlers, about 150 feet long, fishing close to the Narragansett and Charlestown shoreline.

“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 is scheduled for June 19, at the Chatham Community Center, 702 Main St., from 6-8 p.m. Public testimony is welcome.