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March 25, 2012

Study sees more cod stocks in dire straits

A disappointing pace of the rebuilding of inshore cod stocks, which hit the fishing industry with a shock in a new assessment late last year, has now been extended to the offshore cod stock in Georges Bank, according to a new assessment of 13 stocks by the NOAA Science Center at Woods Hole.

The new bad news about Georges Bank cod is that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration now believes the biomass in the offshore waters is 46 percent smaller than the previous assessment estimated in 2008.

That assessment estimated the offshore cod biomass at 17,672 metric tons. The new assessment estimates the stock at 9,494 metric tons.

Based on the new estimates and modeling, NOAA dropped the hypothetical size of the rebuild stock from 148,084 metric tons to 140,424 metric tons.

"There is concern (about Georges Bank cod)," said Teri Frady, chief of research communications for the NOAA Science Center. "There has not been good recruitment, and there is low biomass."

The dramatic reduction in the "estimated" size of the Georges Bank stock emerged from a peer-reviewed process that used the same modeling as used previously, factoring in annual trawl survey data with catch reports.

The inshore cod crisis was triggered by a benchmark assessment of Gulf of Maine cod which found the biomass was about one third the size of the previous benchmark assessment in 2007.

Since late last year, NOAA administrators — along with Secretary of Commerce John Bryson and a crisis management team of government scientists and lawyers — have been working on an interim catch limit for inshore cod in response to the Gulf of Maine assessment that many see threatening fishermen's access to the entire cod fishery by 2013.

The inshore and offshore stocks are known to be integrated to some extent.

But the dramatic differences between the assessments and findings announced in 2008 and 2011 for Gulf of Maine cod have triggered a political-economic-legal crisis that has yet to be resolved.

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