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March 25, 2013

Auctions confirm renewed 'uptick' in cod

Both of Gloucester’s general fish auction houses are confirming reports by fishermen that cod — the fish that helped make this city the world’s oldest, most famous and, for a long time, its busiest fishing port — appears to be following its age-old pattern as it swims in increasing numbers into the shallow waters off Cape Ann.

“There’s a sign of life out there,” said Chris Duffy, general manager of the Cape Ann Fish Exchange.

“We knew it was going to happen just now,” said Vito Giacalone Jr., who operates Fishermen’s Wharf Gloucester with his two brothers.

Both men described the influx of cod as short of dramatic but nonetheless significant for an industry that is facing a potential 77 percent cutback in Gulf of Maine landings for the fishing year that begins May 1, and a regional shutdown on April 1, a rolling closure period for which the government has denied applications of sectors for a waiver.

“The fish are right on target,” said Capt. Joe Orlando who has been fishing on Middle Bank (a section of Stellwagen Bank) just a few miles to the southeast of Gloucester in recent days. “(Cod) move in in March. March has started to pick up. We’re right on target, year after year.”

NOAA Fisheries Social Sciences Branch has published landings data showing landings of Gulf of Maine cod in excess of 10,000 pounds on 11 days over the past six weeks. On five of those days, landings exceeded 20,000 pounds, and fishing has been severely constrained by the spate of winter storms.

Orlando’s sense that the fish are behaving typically and showing in typical numbers challenges a NOAA Science Center assessment which concluded that the stock was in a weakened status of nearly unprecedented levels, and as the stock assessment was presented to the New England Fishery Management Council in January, that body — an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — backed the 77 percent cut in inshore cod, which would come on top of a 22 percent cut made in 2012. The relatively small reduction covering the current fishing year was put in place as an interim action designed to buy enough time for the new benchmark assessment.

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