The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration today has set an interim 2012 catch limit of 6,700 metric tons for Gulf of Maine cod for the fishing year that's set to begin May 1, essentially affirming the lower end of the range recommended in February by the New England Fishery Management Council.
The announcement — coming as NOAA, the council and the fishing industry all wrestle with the findings of a 2010 assessment that showed dramatically lower levels of Gulf of Maine cod stocks that had been reported in 2008 — sets the limit 22 percent below the current limit of 8,500 metric tons. The figure is, however, higher than the 4,000-metric-ton limit that had been sought by the Conservation Law Foundation, one of the leading fishery environmental nonprofit groups.
The New England Fisheries Management Council had urged an interim limit of between 6,700 metric tons and 7,500 metric tons, and Commerce Secretary John Bryson had indicated in February that he thought NOAA would be willing to go along with at least the 6,700-metric-ton figure.
NOAA spokeswoman Maggie Mooney-Sues said Monday that her agency had initially thought the limit would have to be as low as 1,300 metric tons, given that NOAA is required by the Magnuson-Stevens Act to eliminate overfishing of the Gulf of Maine cod within a strict deadline. The assessment that NOAA is using would dictate limits as low as 1,100 to eliminate overfishing within the Magnuson-Stevens time frame.
Mooney-Seus said that “(6,700) is the only number in the range that allows us to reduce overfishing.”
“If we had to put in the measures right away,” she added, “we would have had to make an 80 percent cut.”
The new interim limits will be in effect until April 30, 2013.
But Jackie Odell, executive director of the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, noted that the interim limit still comes in the wake of an assessment ripe with credibility issues, adding that there should be drastic measures taken until the new data is confirmed.
“It’s nothing personal, but either the new assessment is dead wrong or the old assessment was dead wrong,” she said. “There are a number of crucial scientific questions that must be answered and we hope everyone involved will make a positive commitment to continually improving our scientific understanding of this vital stock.”
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Stephanie Bergman can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at email@example.com.