The owner of the fishing vessel Lori B — ordered by the U.S. Coast Guard in April to suspend monkfishing activities south of Nantucket because of Navy submarine exercises in the area, it was later determined — can recoup the fish that were left spoiled in the fixed gear, the National Marine Fisheries Service said Thursday.
Allison McHale, special assistant to the regional administrator of the northeast region, said the decision to allow the Lori B to use the lost three days of landings in the cycle running from May 1, 2012, through April 30, 2013, had been cleared through the Gulf of Maine Research Institute to the boat, owned by Richard Burgess of Manchester.
Burgess, who operates a small, multi-boat business in Gloucester, Mass., said Thursday he had not yet been notified of the action, which effectively allows him to land 14,000 pounds of monkfish.
That catch would replace the fish he was barred from hauling back after the Lori B was hailed by the Coast Guard cutter Campbell at about 8:30 a.m. on April 29, according to a written narrative of the incident by Burgess and submitted to the office of Sen. Scott Brown. Brown, who serves on the Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee, forwarded it to the committee, which took up the issue with the Navy and with the National Marine Fisheries.
Burgess Thursday expressed exasperation that the Navy had chosen prime fishing water and time near the April 30 end of the fishing year for military training operations.
Although NMFS’ decision to allow him to keep the days at sea gives him a second chance to land the 14,000 pounds of monkfish, the investment in the aborted trip is still lost, said Burgess.
Burgess estimated fuel alone for the round-trip from New Bedford to Block Canyon — an area about 60 miles south of Nantucket — cost his business between $5,000 and $6,000.
“They knew the gear was there, and they still picked that place for their operations,” he said.
Although normally based in Gloucester, the Lori B works out of New Bedford when fishing in Southern New England waters.
According to Burgess’ narrative, “the Lori B, under the supervision of Capt. Stephen Smith, set its nets Thursday morning (April 26th) and returned to New Bedford in the middle of the night.”
Typically, Burgess explained, gillnets, which are hung from color-coded popup bouys, remain in the water for anywhere from one day to a few and are then hauled in with their catch.
“On Saturday afternoon (April 28), at 3:30 p.m., the Lori B departed New Bedford in 40-45 knots of wind to return to the spot where the gear was left,” Burgess wrote. “The crew began hauling gillnets at 8 a.m. EST on Sunday, April 29th.” About a half later, he said, the Campbell ordered Captain Smith “to leave the area ASAP.”
Burgess said the Coast Guard disregarded Smith’s pleas that he had to land 14,000 pounds by midnight, April 30, under the terms of the research permit allowance, for which the trip was organized.
“Furthermore,” wrote Burgess, “he was told to steam 20 miles either east or west to exit the area. He was not allowed to steam north, the direction from which he approached the area and the most direct route home.”
The Coast Guard, he wrote, kept the Lori B out of the area, a 25-mile nautical circle, according to McHale of NMFS, through 8 p.m. May 3.
The Coast Guard did not respond Thursday to telephone calls and written questions about the incident.
But both McHale and the staff of the Senate Homeland Security panel confirmed that the Coast Guard was clearing the area for Naval training operations.
McHale said the Navy was conducting submarine exercises; Burgess said that, two weeks before his boat was ordered to abort fishing and leave the area, another of his boats was fishing in the same place when a U.S. Navy nuclear-powered submarine suddenly surfaced nearby.
The Navy has a major submarine base in Groton, Conn., less than 100 nautical miles from the rough location where Burgesss’ gillnetters and other monkfish boats congregate.
The Navy traditionally conducts training activities along the U.S. coastline. Beginning last month and continuing into June, the Navy has been holding a series of public meetings to obtain comment on its draft environmental impact statement for a five-year extension of its 2009 permit exemption from the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The environmental impact statement covers the approximately 2.6 million-nautical-square-mile Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing Area and proposes to triple the allowable use of sonar, which, according to Navy computer modeling, would increase the impact of the sonar on marine mammals.
The application discusses three levels of training, a continuation of current activities to experimentation with futuristic weapons, with parallel racheting of impacts on marine mammals.
(c)2012 the Gloucester Daily Times (Gloucester, Mass.)
Distributed by MCT Information Services