Hook fishermen succeed in 'uncharted' waters

The association received an annual percentage of the overall cod quota to manage and also was able to turn an experimental haddock fishery into a moneymaker
CHATHAM - (02/02/05) It used to be that good fishing was a product of knowing where the fish are and how best to get them. Increasingly, the way to rich fishing grounds entails navigating hotel conference rooms where the New England Fishery Management Council meets to make decisions on who can fish and where. The Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association has been effective in reading the tea leaves and positioning members to weather new regulations. After a lot of lobbying and talking to council members and the National Marine Fisheries Service, the hook association was granted an annual percentage of the overall cod quota to manage. Fifty-eight boats that fish using lines of baited hooks participated in the first program in New England. In another move, the hook association also received permission from federal regulators to turn an experimental haddock fishery into a real moneymaker for 26 boats, whose operators chose to go out 50 miles to Georges Bank in late fall and winter to catch haddock in an area that had been closed to fishing for a decade. "It went well," said Harwich fisherman Peter Taylor. "It definitely helped the guys who participated."

Between Nov. 22 and Dec. 31, when the fishery closed, hook boats had caught over 1 million pounds of haddock. That's a minimum of a $1 million of fish at $1 per pound, which was the low price at Thanksgiving. By Christmas that price had climbed to $2.50 a pound. "It was great. A fantastic opportunity for the boats and for us," said Andy Baler, owner of Nantucket Fish Co. in Chatham and Dennis.

"Prices were fantastic"
Baler and other bluefin tuna companies had just suffered through a second miserable tuna season, as the big moneymaking fish bypassed New England waters and headed south. Baler said he thought about packing up and heading south for a tuna fishery opening up off the Carolinas, but was glad he stuck around for haddock season. "I kept 14 people working for that period. It was a lot of hard work. Late nights, but the prices were fantastic," Baler said. Larger fish draggers - which range from 70 to 100 feet or more, and tow nets - are capable of fishing year round.At around 40 feet long, hook boats are limited by weather conditions. As a result, they only fished 100 to 140 days a year even before harsh regulations were imposed in the 1990s that slashed everyone's fishing days to an average of 55 per year.

In recent years, the hook association worried over the fact the Georges Bank cod that their members depended on were stumbling on the road to recovery. To keep cod stocks growing, some harsh measures were instituted, including a 25 percent cut in fishing days and a 50 percent cut in the cod fishermen could catch each day. The 1,000-pound daily limit was too few fish to rely on for a living. Other fisheries used by hook fishermen also had problems. Bluefin tuna just weren't showing up and the dogfish fishery was closed by federal regulators. "The loss of the dogfish fishery and the migration of tuna offshore to the south, along with the continued decline of Georges Bank cod, all conspired to take a heavy toll on day boat fishing on Georges Bank," said John Pappalardo, a fishery analyst with the hook association and a New England fish council member. "This was the first time in two years that the longline fishery on Georges Bank was profitable," Pappalardo added. The closed-area haddock fishery fished by the hook association members this fall was the most closely monitored fishery program ever. Half the 224 trips carried federal observers and all the boats carried a satellite-tracking device, so officials knew where they were at all times.

Not much cod
The fishery showed that specialized bait, which had come out of the experimental program last winter, did indeed catch haddock but very little cod. Less than 2 percent of the total catch, around 20,000 pounds, were cod. Five percent is considered a low figure in most fisheries trying to protect endangered stocks. Next fall's closed-area haddock fishery could be even better, because the opening of the fishery was delayed a month by red tape. As a result, the boats caught only half the 2 million pound quota before the closing date Dec. 31. Pappalardo said the council is working on opening the fishery this year to all cod fishermen who have federal permits and want to fish with hook and line. They had originally intended to do that last year, but NMFS officials said they felt that could have jeopardized cod stocks.
(Published: February 2, 2005)

Beach breach, Fragile shoreline succumbs to blizzard's erosive wallop

CHATHAM - (02/01/04) The Blizzard of '05 did more than dump snow on Cape Cod. Its 75 mph winds and crashing seas created a 100-foot-wide break in Chatham's South Beach, about due east of North Monomoy Island. The thin strands of barrier beaches that run north from Chatham to Orleans took a brutal beating Jan. 23 as waves also washed right over the spit opposite Pochet Inlet in Orleans and at The Village in Chatham. Stuart Moore, Chatham's shellfish constable, reported walking down South Beach to find water flowing through the break at high tide, said the town's coastal resources director, Ted Keon. However, there was reportedly no water flowing through the cut at low tide. "What the future holds is a little too early to predict," Keon said. "It could mend itself or ... become an all-tide cut-through." The new breach is far enough to the south that it does not appear to endanger Morris Island or any other mainland areas. "If another big storm comes through, it could get interesting," said Mike Brady, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, which encompasses part of Morris Island and North and South Monomoy islands.

Other erosion during the blizzard included the loss of about 5 feet of shoreline in the Nauset Light Beach area of Eastham, said Henry Lind, that town's natural resource officer. The high coastal banks running from Nauset Light Beach down to Coast Guard Beach appear to have been eroded to the point that they stand nearly vertical, he said. That unstable condition could lead to more erosion as the cliff face crumbles. On Nantucket, Harbor Master Dave Fronzuto said there appeared to be some severe erosion along the south shore of the island. At Codfish Park, erosion left the garage of one of the waterfront homes teetering on the edge of a high cliff above the beach. In Chatham, it's not the first time the barrier beach has buckled under the mighty attack of a big storm. A Jan. 2, 1987, northeaster created a break a little south of the town fishing pier at Aunt Lydia's Cove and wreaked havoc on waterfront homes.

Monomoy Island itself was originally connected to the mainland. It broke free in 1958, then split in half into North and South Monomoy islands during the Blizzard of '78. South Monomoy itself could split in half within a few years. The latest blizzard's strongest winds came out of the north-northeast, a direction that creates a strong current along the shore, capable of taking large amounts of sand away from beaches and depositing them to the south, said Jim O'Connell, a coastal geologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. O'Connell said projections for South Beach during the next decade have changed in recent years. It now looks as if the beach could continue to be driven westward by storms and eventually link up with the Monomoy islands, connecting them once again to the mainland.
(Published: February 1, 2005)

Mooring-fee law leaves towns short

Equal rates for nonresidents called a 'stealth amendment

BOSTON - (10/11/04) Sen. Michael Morrissey, D-Quincy, denied yesterday that he quietly slipped an amendment into a transportation bond bill last August that requires towns to charge the same mooring fees to residents and nonresidents.

The change surprised Cape harbor masters and other town leaders who were not aware of it when they set the mooring fee schedule for 2005. The new law puts some towns in the position of either raising residential fees or losing money.

In an interview yesterday, Morrissey said his legislation was discussed last spring and that legislators who are in the "boaters caucus" - lawmakers who meet to discuss boating legislation - were aware of it.

"It didn't just pop up. It had been circulated," Morrissey said.

But Sen. Robert O'Leary, D-Barnstable, who may propose a repeal of the mooring change - and serves in the boating caucus - said Morrissey's legislation was not widely known at the time.

"It never went through a hearing, that's for sure," O'Leary said. "This was a stealth amendment."

The Falmouth Board of Selectmen voted last night to suspend higher nonresident mooring fees for 2005.

Leaders said the financial loss in Falmouth would be minimal.

"The law is there," said Ahmed Mustafa, chairman of the Falmouth selectmen. "It would cost us more to fight this thing."

Last year, residents and nonresidents alike paid $40 to moor their boats in Falmouth, said Harbor Master Gregg Fraser. The town had planned this year to charge everyone $1 per foot of boat, but residents would pay $50 and nonresidents would pay $100.

Now everyone will pay $50 plus $1 per foot of boat, Fraser said.

About 350 nonresidents moor boats in Falmouth, so Fraser said dropping the higher nonresident fee means a shortfall of more than $17,000.

"There's good reason to charge nonresidents more than residents," Fraser said after the meeting. "We probably will see some change fairly quickly."

Morrissey said he filed the legislation last year because he heard complaints from boat owners in his Senate district's inland towns - Abington, Rockland and Holbrook - when Quincy and Braintree considered charging higher mooring fees for nonresidents.

He said a resident and nonresident should not be charged two different fees when they are getting the same service.

"The fee should be directly related to the service," he said. "It's a service fee, whether you live in the town or not ... Charging two different rates for two different people borders on being arbitrary and a tax," Morrissey said.

"The commonwealth's waters should be enjoyed by all people ... I don't charge you more to drive across my roads in Quincy."

Morrissey owns several boats, mooring them in Marina Bay in Quincy and keeping them at his home. He has a Zodiac outboard boat and a 35-foot Luhrs pleasure boat registered with the state, and is a member of yacht clubs in Boston and Quincy.

O'Leary defended the practice by many Cape towns of charging two separate rates, saying town residents also support the harbor through property taxes.

"It's not just about inspecting and setting the moorings and overseeing them," he said. "It's the whole business of creating a harbor environment. There are times when there are enormous storms, and the local communities get stuck with the expense of the cleanup."

Morrissey disputed that he was leaving towns in the lurch by forcing them to either raise resident fees or lose money. He said the harbor towns already collect boat excise taxes and they would now have to justify the expense of mooring fees in proportion to the service.

"People who own boats generally are not wealthy," Morrissey said. "They're small-boat owners. They often forgo vacations because they have a boat."

Another part of the change requires all mooring fees to be spent on marine-related projects.

Morrissey said it was understandable that the Cape had higher fees than some other parts of the state because it has more restrictions on mooring space.

"I'm not saying don't have a fee, but make sure your fee is proportionate to the service you are getting," he said.

Staff writer Joe Heitz contributed to this story.

Harbor of confusion
(Editorial Published: January 11, 2005 CCTimes)

A new law over mooring fees sends mixed signals to Cape harbor masters.

With a lawyer like this, who needs the Massachusetts Legislature?

Last summer, state lawmakers - foolishly and without due process -approved a measure that requires towns to charge nonresidents the same mooring fees as residents.

But Lauren Goldberg, a lawyer with Kopelman & Paige, the legal firm that represents most Cape towns, believes that towns continue to enjoy the right to split fees, charging nonresidents more.

Wellfleet Harbor Master Michael Flanagan cited Goldberg's legal opinion when he told our reporter last week that he thinks the town was going to stick with its existing split-fee schedule. (Wellfleet charges residents $50 to moor vessels outside the mooring basin breakwater and $70 for nonresidents.)

Goldberg's opinion noted that split fees are common practice in many other town services, such as shellfish licensing, dump and beach stickers. In the past, towns have been allowed to charge nonresidents more to cover hidden costs that residents absorb, such as paying for a harbor master, staff and offices, or for police and fire services.

Goldberg also said that the language in the new law and case law allows for split fees as long as the town can show that the difference in fees pays for costs to provide services for nonresidents.

If that is the case, then why are at least two Cape towns scrambling to accommodate the new law?

Harwich Harbor Master Thomas Leach said he will recommend to the Harwich Waterways Commission at its meeting tonight that it raise fees by 10 percent and make the nonresident fee equal to the residential fee. Currently, mooring fees in Harwich are double for nonresidents.

In Falmouth, the selectmen were expected last night to discuss the ramifications of the new law. Falmouth Harbor Master Gregg Fraser estimated the town would lose $19,400 in mooring fees if the nonresident fees are cut back to what residents pay.

Goldberg's opinion may be right (and we agree with her position), but the new law must be addressed.

Town leaders must determine if Goldberg's reading of the new law allows them to continue charging different fees. Otherwise, they must equalize the fee schedule.

After all, towns risk legal liability if nonresidents claim in court that they are being illegally charged more than residents.

In any case, the new law has created enough confusion among Cape harbor masters that legislators must immediately file new legislation to remedy the situation.

And this time, instead of quickly passing the law as a rider to the Transportation Bond Bill without full consideration by all the stakeholders, legislators must involve harbor masters and the boating public.

"The harbor masters were blindsided (by this legislation)," Fraser said.

State Sen. Robert O'Leary, D-Barnstable, said legislators at the time were distracted by the same-sex marriage issue. He said some legislation, which typically would have been reviewed at committee hearings, ended up as last-minute add-ons to other bills with little or no public process.

"The things that happen quickly are sometimes the things that shouldn't happen," he said.

It's foul-ups like this that diminish the reputation of the Legislature.

(Published: January 11, 2005)

Expanded dog bans proposed in Orleans


ORLEANS - (1/8/05)Pet owners may soon have to walk their dogs anywhere but the town's public beaches during the summer.

Though the town already has a policy banning animals in most public beach areas during peak season, a proposed regulation change could extend that for another month.

Currently, there is a 24-hour ban on animals at Skaket Beach and most of Nauset Beach from the Friday before Memorial Day until Labor Day. Animals are also not allowed on the northern section of Nauset Beach near Eastham from March 15 through Sept. 15.

However, many dog owners have been able to trot their pups along the southern tip of Nauset Beach, closest to the Chatham line, without restriction during the summer months.

On Jan. 19 Orleans parks commissioners will hold a public meeting to weigh banning animals for 24 hours on all public beaches, including that part of Nauset, through Columbus Day.

"There are a still a lot of people enjoying the beach after Labor Day and we have had complaints about people not cleaning up after their dogs," said Paul Fulcher, the town's parks and beaches superintendent.

"It's a very emotional issue around here," he said.

Town officials list a myriad of reasons why they believe the ban is necessary on every public beach at all times during the summer.

Dog walkers who fail to clean up their pets' waste leave unsanitary conditions on Skaket and Nauset, two of the Lower Cape's most popular beaches. The town does not have the resources to patrol the beaches and make sure dog walkers are using pooper scoopers.

Coliform bacteria from animal waste can also pollute the water.

Selectmen chairman Margie Fulcher said the policy also helps protect some critical habitats, such as those that shield piping plovers. The town has limited resources, she said, to control where dogs roam.

"The state could take action if there aren't proper restrictions and critical areas are disturbed," she said.

The selectmen endorsed the full-fledged seasonal ban in December.

Paul Fulcher said dogs can be walked along conservation and bike trails as well the town landings and Rock Harbor, which will not be affected by the regulations.

Opinions from Orleans beach goers are split, with many urging compromise.

"I think they should find a happy medium instead of a full ban," said Deb Caruso of Brewster. Caruso bought a permit last summer to access the southern end of Nauset so she could run with her black dog.

"I think people just need to be responsible and clean up," she said. "But it seems like more and more privileges are being taken away."

Sara Burke, an Orleans resident who frequently takes her small children to the beach, couldn't disagree more.

"Last summer, my 6-year-old son sat in some wet sand where a dog had urinated," she said. "It was disgusting and I bet the owner never even knew."

(Published: January 8, 2005)

Mooring fee change slips into state law

Paying less for some things is one of the perks that comes with being a local. At the bar, you might get a larger glass for your beer or pina colada. At the dump and beach, you pay a fraction of what it costs a non-resident.

2004 mooring fees

A new Massachusetts law prohibits discrimination between non-residential and residential mooring fees. A sampling of 2004 rates for Cape communities is listed below.


Total number of moorings: 2,424

Resident fee: $35

Non-resident fee: $70


Total number of moorings: 435

Resident fee: $100

Non-resident fee: $200


Total number of moorings: 2,326

Resident fee: $2/foot

Non-resident fee: $6/foot


Total number of moorings: 3,126

Resident fee: $40

Non-resident fee: $40


Total number of moorings: 450

Resident fee: $50 (outside town mooring basin); $140 (mooring basin inside breakwater)

Non-resident fee: $70 (outside town mooring basin); $170 (mooring basin inside breakwater)

It's a bonus for enduring the Cape winter even if you spent most of it in Florida.

Until recently, mooring your boat, whether skiff or yacht, was one of those perks. In Harwich, for instance, mooring fees are double for nonresidents.

But a rider tacked onto a Transportation Bond Bill that passed at midnight on a hot August night at the Statehouse last summer now requires that mooring fees be the same for residents and nonresidents.

Unfortunately, no one bothered to tell the Cape's harbor masters and town officials, many of whom have already set their mooring fees for 2005. They must now decide whether they will change them and whether they will bring fees for residents up to what they charge non-residents, cut nonresident fees back to resident pricing, or have both meet somewhere in between.

"There was no harbor master in the state who knew it was coming," Harwich Harbor Master Thomas Leach said.

On Monday night, the Falmouth selectmen will debate how they will deal with the new law. Harbor Master Gregg Fraser estimated the town would lose $19,400 in mooring fees if the nonresident fees are cut back to what residents pay.

There are more than 3,100 moorings in town, including 388 for nonresidents. Last year, the town received $114,000 in mooring fees and charged a per-foot fee plus $50 for residents and the same per-foot fee plus $100 for nonresidents.

Ironically, it's the first year the town ever had a split fee, Fraser said.

"The harbor masters were blindsided (by this legislation)," Fraser complained.

Sen. Michael Morrissey, D-Quincy, sponsored the amendment, one of thousands added to the budget in the waning hours of the summer session. He did not return a phone call placed to his office yesterday.

Leach said he spoke with the Quincy harbor master at a recent meeting and found even he didn't know about the new fee requirements.

Bill passed quickly
State Sen. Robert O'Leary, D-Barnstable, said legislators at the time were distracted by the same-sex marriage issue and the constitutional convention, and legislation that typically may have been vetted at committee hearings ended up as last-minute add-ons to other bills with little or no public process.

"The things that happen quickly are sometimes the things that shouldn't happen," he said. "This is not a good situation and it may be too late to address it now."

O'Leary did say the passage of this amendment does point out a communication problem where harbor masters need to have someone keeping track of legislation that affects them.

Fraser said a second part of the amendment may give some towns trouble, because it requires that money raised through mooring fees be put in a dedicated account known as a Municipal Waterways Improvement and Maintenance Fund.

Not all towns have created a waterways fund, he said. Towns such as Wellfleet, which has an enterprise fund where fees are placed, may have to create a waterways fund to use fees from moorings.

Common practice
Wellfleet Harbor Master Michael Flanagan said he believed the town was going to stick with its existing fee schedule. He cited a legal opinion issued to towns by Lauren Goldberg of Kopelman & Paige, the legal firm representing most Cape towns, that upheld the town's right to split fees.

Goldberg's opinion noted that split fees are common practice in many other town services such as shellfish licensing, dump and beach stickers. The argument generally for charging nonresidents more for town services is the hidden costs that taxpayers absorb, such as paying for a harbor master, staff and offices, or for the police and fire to protect facilities.

Goldberg also stated that the language in the amendment and case law allows for split fees as long as the town can show that the difference in fees pays for costs to provide services for nonresidents.

Leach said the split-fee issue will probably go to court. In the meantime, he said he will recommend to the Harwich Waterways Commission at its Tuesday meeting that members raise fees by 10 percent and make the non-resident fee equal to the residential fee. The town would lose around $4,000 if it eliminated the nonresidential fee and didn't go up on fees at all.

Fraser said some good does come out of the new amendment in that it requires all mooring fees be spent on marina projects.

(Published: January 8, 2005)

MBL student visitors help in Cape studies

The environmental program contributes to research on the impact of development WOODS HOLE - (1/3/04) Hampshire College student Sarah Foster plunges her arm into a bubbling tank at the Marine Biological Laboratory and pulls out a giant tube of water that is half clear and half murky. The tube is a cross-section of life on the bottom of West Falmouth Harbor, and is yielding information to this neophyte scientist about just how fast oxygen is being choked off by a malady that plagues most Cape embayments - excess nitrogen. The core sample was taken by Foster from the harbor as part of her research project during a 15-week term at MBL's Semester in Environmental Science at the institution's Ecosystems Center. Foster and three of her fellow Semester in Environmental Science students, Emily deMoor of Brown University, Sarah Hicks of Hampshire College and Rose Phillips of Mount Holyoke College, left their schools behind this fall to spend a semester in the field. MBL has arrangements with 60 colleges and universities - from Allegheny College to Wheaton - under which students and faculty can spend time at the 116-year-old Woods Hole teaching facility. Most have sent either professors or students to take part in the program since it began in 1997. Typically, about 20 students enroll in the course of study, according to Ken Foreman, director of the MBL program. This fall, 10 students enrolled. Each student chooses a project to work on for the semester. For Foster, it was the effects of eutrophication on West Falmouth Harbor. Fertilizers and septic waste from surrounding homes and businesses have leached into the harbor, filling the water with an undesirable amount of nutrients. Eutrophication, or the loss of oxygen, occurs when those nutrients, in the form of nitrates that convert to nitrogen, stimulate algae growth in the aquatic system. The algae die off and fall to the bottom, and oxygen is then needed to break down the organic matter. The water system suffers a double whammy of sorts, because the decaying algae also make the water murkier, which cuts down on the amount of sunlight getting to the living plants on the bottom. Therefore, not only is the available oxygen being depleted by the decay process, but less oxygen is being released by living plants on the bottom.

Nitrogen pollution
Two-thirds of the nation's coastal estuaries are nitrogen-polluted, Foreman says. In New England, most comes from residential septic systems. On her laptop computer, Foster pulls up a detailed graph that shows how fast the oxygen is being depleted in the water in the core samples over six weeks. She downplays the significance of her work, saying it is just a small window of the harbor's eutrophication process. But Foreman is impressed. "I would say that's pretty high-quality data," he said. He then hits on the students' greatest contribution - additional pieces in the puzzle of how development and land use are affecting our environment. Each time we look at the environmental issues the students are investigating, we add to the science, he said. During the first nine weeks of the program, the students are immersed in structured laboratory and field work. The final six weeks of the semester they work on their own research project, and report their findings at a symposium at the end of their time at MBL. Foster and her colleagues presented their findings in mid-December.

Top researchers
During the semester, they were taught by and rubbed shoulders with some of the top researchers in their fields, who are funded by more than 50 competitive grants of more than $7 million. Researchers at MBL's Ecosystems Center are studying a wide range of issues, from the consequences of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon to the impact of climate change in arctic tundra, river and lake ecosystems. It's a chance for students to get hands-on, in-the-field experience in their chosen area of study - to see words on paper come alive in the field. "There are certain terms you hear (in the classroom) and you just shut off," Foster said. "But here, you get a tangible understanding of those terms." But, while the lessons may be more stimulating, they are not easier, the four women agreed. "It's definitely rigorous," deMoor said. "You shouldn't come in thinking it will be an easy semester by the sea." Foster, who teamed with Phillips on the West Falmouth Harbor study, chose to investigate eutrophication in the small saltwater embayment since it was one of five possible sites in and around Woods Hole the program has earmarked for study. The others are Siders Pond, a small, shallow pond in Woods Hole; Waquoit Bay, a system of small estuaries in Falmouth along Vineyard Sound; Johns Pond, a freshwater kettle pond in Mashpee; and the Falmouth Wastewater Treatment Plant's irrigated forest, which receives sprayed effluent from the treatment plant.

Effects of development
The sites offer classic examples of aquatic ecosystems that are being affected by development. In the case of Waquoit Bay, a 1,000-home subdivision along Childs River has been contributing septic system waste for many years. West Falmouth Harbor is affected by nitrogen from the town's treatment plant. And Johns Pond is being affected by a plume from the Massachusetts Military Reservation. With their semester at MBL now behind them, the four women (all juniors, except Phillips, who is a senior) are back at their schools with four credits and a heap of hands-on knowledge. Like many of their predecessors, the students may end up back at MBL, either for a summer internship or as an employee. One in five students from the Semester in Environmental Science course is hired at MBL for some period of time, Foreman said.
(Published: January 3, 2005)