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Massachusetts Legislation Could Lead to No-Fishing Zones!

Two bills were recently introduced in the Massachusetts legislature with the intention of improving how Massachusetts manages its marine resources. One bill, ?An Act Relative to Ocean Resources and Conservation Act (H. 2602) was introduced by the Governor and the other, the ?Comprehensive Ocean Resource Management Act? (S529) was introduced by Senator Robert O?Leary (D ? Cape and Islands). Both bills received a public hearing before the legislature?s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture on Monday, July 18.

The Governor?s bill largely exempts fishing from new restrictions and does not mandate fishing-related Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). However, Senator O?Leary?s bill would likely lead to the establishment of ?No-Fishing? MPAs restricting public access to Massachusetts waters. In an effort to prevent the negative social and economic consequences of no fishing zones, RFA representatives testified strongly against the sections of S529 that pertain to MPAs.

S529, as introduced, mandates the creation of an ocean management plan. S529 is clear that MPAs are to be a part of the ocean management plan. The language of the bill is also clear that any fishing regulation developed by the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) must comply to the maximum extent possible with the ocean plan.

?Everyone involved in the debate over MPAs acknowledges that the ?No-Fishing? MPA is a type of MPA. If the ocean plan were to call for No-Fishing MPAs, and DMF did not issue regulations prohibiting fishing, the environmental groups will probably sue the next day, arguing that DMF did not comply with the law.? said Michael Doebley, RFA Deputy Director of Government Affairs.

Senator O?Leary has assured RFA representatives that they have no intention of harming fishermen and that the language in S529 regarding MPAs is simply a ?placeholder?.

?We appreciate these assurances,? said Barry Gibson, RFA New England Regional Director. ?But the fact of the matter is that the bill has been introduced, has been given a public hearing, and is going through the legislative process. In theory, the committee could vote on the bill and send it to the full House of Representatives and Senate tomorrow.?

Several environmental groups who spoke in favor of this legislation are actively promoting No-Fishing MPAs in Massachusetts and around the country. ?The recreational fishing community of Massachusetts needs to be speak out clearly and loudly against the current MPA language found in S529. We urge all Massachusetts anglers to contact their state representatives and let them know they are opposed to the sections of S529 as currently written that relate to MPAs. Everyone needs to be engaged and vigilant as the legislative process goes forward,? said Mr. Gibson.
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