By John Laidler
A federal agency’s decision to close part of the Gulf of Maine to gillnets each October and November starting this fall in order to reduce harbor porpoise deaths is drawing protests from local fishermen.
The National Marine Fisheries Service said it was required to take the action because the number of porpoises dying as a result of being ensnared in gillnets - fixed lines placed on the ocean floor - exceeds rates set under a 2010 management plan.
But the ruling is raising alarm among commercial gillnet fishermen, who said it will only add to the economic stress they are facing because of other regulatory moves in recent years.
Most of those gillnetters belong to Sector 3, a cooperative in Gloucester with 34 members, according to Jackie Odell, executive director of the Northeast Seafood Coalition, which represents commercial groundfishermen from Maine to Long Island.
“They are furious,’’ Odell said of the gillnetters. “We are trying to get more flexibility for fishermen to be able to fish in times and in areas where groundfish stocks are located and abundant and where there are healthy stocks like pollock. . . . This goes completely contrary to all we are working on.’’
Odell warned that the closure could have a “tremendous impact on the day boat fishermen who are already tremendously impacted’’ by other rules.
Harbor porpoises, a protected species under the federal Marine Mammal Act, inhabit ocean waters extending from Nova Scotia to North Carolina, according to David Gouveia, coordinator of the marine mammal and sea turtle conservation program for the National Marine Fisheries Services northeast regional office in Gloucester.