The amount of cod that can be legally caught in New England could be significantly reduced following a Jan. 25 public hearing in Providence held by the New England Fishery Management Council, which will discuss results of the government’s latest population survey. Preliminary signs indicate that the news will be devastating to both the commercial and recreational industry.
At stake is a potential reduction in the value of cod landed of between 20 to 90 percent from Maine to Massachusetts, if the council restricts landings under one scenario.
Four months ago no one could have imagined such a decrease.
Last October, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole announced the results of its recent study, indicating that the stock in the Gulf of Maine is overfished and continued overfishing is occurring. They also said the cod fishery would not be rebuilt by its self-imposed 2014 deadline, even if fishing for the species were to be banned. The study was reviewed and found to be accurate in November.
The news was shocking to fishermen, contradicting a 2008 Groundfish Assessment Review Meeting that concluded cod were no longer overfished.
The National Marine Fishery Service now believes its 2008 findings were flawed and probably overestimated codfish. At the time, the cod figures were one of the few bright spots in the report. Three years later, the new assessment has found that inshore cod is now overfished and will not attain acceptable levels until at least 2018.
The Jan. 25 hearing at the Hotel Providence will discuss six different cod-management alternatives. A management plan must be in place by May 1, 2012.
“They will also give us six different catch levels based on six different management scenarios, said C.M. “Rip” Cunningham Jr., NEFMC chairman. “From that we will get a range. Because of timing, there’s no way we can go through our normal process. We will therefore be asking for emergency action. …We are trying to find an unusual solution to it, and one way to do that is to get a decision from the secretary of commerce concerning some of the elements of the [federal regulations] that may allow us to deal with this single species in a manner that isn’t our normal procedure.”
Lawmakers from the region are urging Commerce Secretary John Bryson to re-evaluate the survey’s results. Thus far, Bryson has recognized the issue but remains noncommittal.
In what for fishermen would be the worst management scenario under consideration, NEFMC estimates that cod revenue would fall by 21 percent in Massachusetts, 91 percent in New Hampshire and 54 percent in Maine. (The commission did not provide an estimated loss for Rhode Island.)