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February 14, 2012

Conservation Law Fund urges deeper cod cut

The Conservation Law Foundation has urged the government to drop 2012 catch limit for Gulf of Maine cod well below the interim figure of 6,700 metric tons that has been announced informally by the acting NOAA Fisheries administrator as the maximum level under consideration.

Instead, CLF implicitly recommends setting the 2012 allowable catch about 4,000 metric tons, a level that would ensure against dropping the spawning stock biomass below 7,300 metric tons, which was the lowest ever recorded, in 1999.

The 2010 spawning stock biomass was 11,868 metric tons in the 2010 NOAA Science Center assessment that set off the cod crisis.

CLF noted that the government has estimated a catch level of 6,700 metric tons produced more than a 31 percent chance that the catch would push the inshore cod biomass below the lowest level ever.

The 6,700 metric ton figure represents a 22 percent cut from projected landings in the 2011 fishing year ending April 30. Setting the limit at 4,000 metric tons would mark a cut of 47 percent from the current year.

Moreover, CLF, which has become the lead environmental non-government organization in the cod crisis, contends that allowing that much inshore cod to be landed in the coming fishing year would force regulators to make far more drastic cuts in 2013.

CLF also outlined a series of proposed management measures designed to protect the stock and the dayboat fleet that depends on it, including "trip limits on Gulf of Maine cod" and barring boats from landing inshore and offshore cod in the same trip.

David Pierce, Massachusetts' representative on the New England Fishery Management Council, also made the case for protecting the inshore boats from the bigger "trip boats" which have been trawling in Stellwagen Bank, the most productive inshore grounds.

The Boston-based organization is also endorsing the need for a federal "economic disaster" declaration.

In November, before the arrival of the cod crisis, Gov. Deval Patrick, backed by the congressional delegation, filed socio-economic research evidence showing that the fishery was consolidating into an economic disaster through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's catch share system, which is steering more and more permits and quota into the hands of fewer and larger businesses, and away from smaller, independent boats. NOAA's own figures show that Gloucester's fleet lost some two dozen of its estimated 96 boats in the 2010 to 2011 fishing year alone.

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