Fishing industry leaders and rank-and-file fishermen greeted NOAA's 2012 interim Gulf of Maine cod catch limits with resignation Tuesday, noting that the numbers were expected and could easily have been worse.
But they also said the limit of 6,700 metric tons, set for the new fishing year that begins May 1 and a 22 percent cut from the current year's total allowable catch, could devastate the industry.
"We knew they'd go with the lowest number they could get away with," said Gloucester fisherman Paul Cohan, referring to the fact that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration used the low end of the range of 6,700 to 7,500 metric tons urged in February by the New England Fishery Management Council.
NOAA spokeswoman Maggie Mooney-Sues said NOAA could not have gone any higher with the limit without running afoul of the Magnuson-Stevens Act's rules to eliminate overfishing of Gulf of Maine cod within a strict deadline.
NOAA is accepting comments on the limit until June 4, Mooney-Sues said, and she said NOAA would welcome all input. The limit is in place through Sept. 30.
Mooney-Sues said NOAA had faced the possibility of setting limits at 1,100 metric tons — a prospect that Cohan and others dismissed as absurd.
"I just can't understand why they haven't fast-tracked a new assessment, with all the problems," said Cohan, who owns and operates the fishing vessel Sasquatch. "This is life or death for some of us."
Debates over the accuracy of the 2010 stock assessment, whose projections fuel the catch limits, have raged since the assessment first came out late last year, but complaints have been gaining steam. While data from a 2008 assessment painted a picture of a Gulf of Maine cod fishery nearing recovery, the 2010 assessment found a dramatically different result — and NOAA chief administrator Jane Lubchenco has steadfastly refused demands from U.S. Sen. John Kerry and other federal and state lawmakers to commission a new study.