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March 14, 2012

Leaders push for extended break on cod

In recent weeks, NOAA Fisheries has signaled a willingness to slide past a dire assessment of Gulf of Maine, or inshore, cod to give the industry a year of relief — with a 22 percent cut in the catch limit as a feasible interim adjustment, as opposed to one much deeper.

But for 2013, it will likely take an act of Congress to save the inshore fishery from a virtually complete shutdown due to catastrophic cutbacks — as much as 90 percent — in the Gulf of Maine cod limit, according to industry leaders and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials.

Now, industry leaders David Goethel, a New Hampshire fisherman and three-term member of the New England Fishery Management Council, and Brian Rothschild, a professor of marine science and technology at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth are pointing to the need for Congress to override the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which is said to allow just a single year of "interim" catch limits before requiring the government to align catch limits with the official assessment of the stock and end overfishing.

In email exchanges with the Times, Goethel and Rothschild agreed on the need for Congress to authorize a second year of higher catch limits than the 2011 assessment would justify while the government voluntarily or in response to congressional mandates undertakes a comprehensive new assessment of the region's legendary fish.

In New England, individual stocks routinely are assessed every three years.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a high NOAA official said the first in a series of announcements from the crisis management team about 2012 will be made possibly within days and almost certainly before the end of the month.

At its February meeting, the regional council, an arm of NOAA, asked the government to make no more than a 22 percent cut in the 2011 catch as its interim act; a week later, Sam Rauch, NOAA's acting administrator for fisheries, told an emergency fisheries forum that limiting the cut to 22 percent for the 2012 fishing year, beginning May 1, was doable.

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