The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has set an interim 2012 catch limit of 6,700 metric tons for Gulf of Maine cod for the fishing year that's set to begin May 1 — essentially affirming the lower end of the range recommended in February by the New England Fishery Management Council.
The announcement — coming Monday as NOAA, the council and the fishing industry all wrestle with the findings of a 2010 assessment that showed dramatically lower levels of Gulf of Maine cod stocks than had been reported in 2008 — sets the limit 22 percent below the current limit of 8,500 metric tons.
The figure is, however, higher than limit of 4,000 metric tons that had been sought by the Conservation Law Foundation, one of the leading fishery environmental nonprofit groups.
The New England Fishery Management Council had urged an interim limit of between 6,700 metric tons and 7,500 metric tons, and Commerce Secretary John Bryson had indicated in February that he thought NOAA would be willing to go along with at least the 6,700 metric ton figure.
NOAA spokeswoman Maggie Mooney-Sues said Monday that her agency had initially thought the limit would have to be as low as 1,300 metric tons, given that NOAA is required by the Magnuson-Stevens Act to eliminate overfishing of the Gulf of Maine cod within a strict deadline. The assessment that NOAA is using would dictate limits as low as 1,100 to eliminate overfishing within the Magnuson-Stevens time frame.
Mooney-Seus said that "(6,700) is the only number in the range that allows us to reduce overfishing."
"If we had to put in the measures right away," she added, "we would have had to make an 80 percent cut."
The new interim limits will be in effect until April 30, 2013, and Mooney-Sues warned that next year's limit will likely be far lower.