An independent peer review of an already controversial study that suggests a rapid decline in cod stocks is set to begin this week — with potentially catastrophic implications for Gloucester's dayboat fishermen who fear the results could bring a shutdown of the Gulf of Maine cod fishery.
Just three years ago, a comprehensive stock assessment showed the Gulf of Maine cod was effectively rebuilding.
But, in data first spotlighted last month in the Gloucester Daily Times, preliminary figures suggest the valuable species is in dismal shape and won't rebuild within the timeframe set by the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the framework for federal fisheries law.
In a worst-case scenario, that could mean a broad fishery shutdown to protect the cod. But that step would be drastic and a long ways away.
The preliminary data will first be reviewed beginning this week, and fishery managers will have other alternatives before a shutdown.
But as Steven Cadrin, a member of the New England Fishery Management Council's Scientific and Statistical Committee team, told the Times in October, the assessment of Gulf of Maine cod points to findings that even a complete ban on landings would not allow the iconic stock to rebuild fully by the April 2014 deadline in the management plan.
"The stock can't meet the rebuilding deadline with no fishing," said Cadrin, an associate professor of oceanography at University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth's School of Marine Science and Technology.
As the peer review approaches, anxiety is high.
To Gloucester's Vito Giacalone, policy director of the Northeast Seafood Coalition, the estimates are yet another instance of fishery science conflicting with what fishermen see on the water.
He said cod isn't crashing, but is so plentiful fishermen are taking steps to avoid it so they don't exceed tough catch limits.