Speaking to a group of New England fishery leaders Friday in Portsmouth, N.H., Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk joined a call for the federal government to carry out a new assessment of Gulf of Maine cod stocks before ratcheting down catch limits that would have a dire effect on the fishing industry.
Kirk, addressing a special stakeholders workshop before officials of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and New England Fishery Management Council, delivered a letter from the city's revitalized Fisheries Commission that she said has also been sent to U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson.
The mayor's presentation and commission's statement cited and questioned the dramatic differences between a 2008 NOAA cod assessment that found the stock on the verge of recovery and a new 2011 study that found Gulf of Maine cod badly overfished and in dire straits.
"The stark difference between the two assessments in 2008 and 2011 threatens all fishing-related businesses in our city," Kirk said, "and it is essential to reassess such wildly different findings and conflicting results, if a fishing community like Gloucester is to exist."
"Gloucester is one of the remaining full service 'hub ports' in the region," Kirk emphasized. "The infrastructure is but a fraction of what it used to be, and everything that remains of that infrastructure will be lost if the council's recommendation to do the least harm to industry is not implemented by the secretary."
NOAA officials and the regional fisheries council are grappling with how to set a total allowable catch — or TAC — for New England's groundfishermen in the new fishing year that begins May 1.
NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco has already defied calls for a new assessment before setting any new limits — turning down requests to do so from U.S. Sen. John Kerry and other federal lawmakers.
NOAA officials have also called for a new, significant reduction in catch limits because of the new study's findings, despite questions raised by fishermen, industry officials and lawmakers regarding the validity of the data and the trawl survey carried out by a new NOAA research vessel.
But Kirk, the city's fisheries panel and others have continued to press for a new study, even while NOAA and the council are eyeing "interim" catch limits that could at least ease a cut in cod landings.
"Representing the diversity of Gloucester's fishing industry, the commission took action to send a letter to Secretary of Commerce John Bryson supporting the ... (council's) short-term solution to enact an emergency rule for fishing year 2012, and allow an interim total allowable catch or TAC of cod at 7,500 metric tons," she said.
"This will do the least harm to the industry as the process continues to address the scientific issues in question," she said.
However, she added, "Gloucester's fishing industry and harbor infrastructure are deeply dependent on landings of codfish, and significant cuts in the allowable catch of codfish would, without a doubt, threaten the very survival of our entire fishing industry and working waterfront.
"... We urge every possible action be taken in the next year to address the inadequacies in the assessment prior to permanent TACs being initiated for 2013 and beyond."