The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has announced an effort to expand cooperative fishing research in New England, including — possibly in the near future — the use of a commercial trawler working in tandem with the new government research vessel Bigelow to help determine if the trawl catch jibes with the industry's.
Alan Risenhoover, NOAA's acting assistant administrator for fisheries, described various initiatives for cross-checking and improving stock assessments during a national teleconference to announce the interim or transitional total allowable catch of Gulf of Maine cod for the 2012 fishing cycle beginning May 1.
"We are designing experiments for commercial trawlers and it may involve parallel towing," he said.
The move to improve assessments comes in response to a so-called cod crisis, prompted by disparate results in two benchmark stock assessments three years apart, the latter done in 2010 and peer reviewed earlier this year.
NOAA will reduce the Gulf of Maine cod catch by a titular 22 percent below what was allowed in 2011, but in reality, Risenhoover explained, the reduction will be minimal for the commercial fleet.
Risenhoover said the inshore commercial boats are expected to land 4,200 metric tons of cod this fishing year, which rings down April 30. Of the 6,700 metric tons in the catch allowed in fishing year 2012, the commercial boats are getting 4,170 metric tons, which represents a reduction of only 30 metric tons, less than 1 percent.
Although the 17 sectors whose members are assigned catch shares proportional to their landings in an ll-year period ending 2006 typically set aside 10 percent as a buffer against overfishing, NOAA Fisheries spokeswoman Maggie Mooney-Seus said the buffer is not required.
"It's not this year, it's next year" that is worrisome, Mooney-Seus said in a telephone interview Friday.
The decision to invoke flexibility arguably found in the Magunson-Stevens Act and therefore give the industry one more year of relatively constant catch levels kicks the imperative to end overfishing down the road for no more than one year. The move has been advocated by virtually every stakeholder — fishermen and non-government organizations alike.