GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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February 3, 2012

Fish deputy ties cod loss to catch shares

The deputy director of Massachusetts' marine fisheries has charged that the federal groundfish catch share system has allowed big trawlers designed for offshore fishing to pillage cod from the inshore waters of Stellwagen Bank.

David Pierce, who is also a member of the New England Fishery Management Council, made the allegation during the Wednesday afternoon session of the council meeting in Portsmouth, N.H., where the panel had been struggling to come to grips legally, economically and politically with the findings of a new NOAA Science Center assessment that inshore or Gulf of Maine cod stocks are collapsing.

The intense pressure on the inshore cod population by boats of more than 70 feet has been one of many mutually inclusive theories for how the most important food fish for the region's commercial and recreational industries seems to have gone from robust to threatened in a matter of three years.

The council approved a compromise motion that urged the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to institute cutbacks in inshore cod landings in the range of 10 percent to 23 percent.

NOAA officials promised a quick decision, but also announced a second meeting next Friday in Portsmouth for an industry and NOAA working group on the cod crisis.

The Times, on multiple occasions over the past year, has referred to unattributed claims by small boat owners that offshore trawlers were taking enormous quantities of cod from Stellwagen in single tows while on the way in or out of the ports of Gloucester and New Bedford.

The dire 2011 inshore cod assessment repudiated the previous assessment from 2008, which showed the stock all but fully rebuilt.

Pierce on Wednesday described multiple schemes — made legal or viable in the catch share management system put in place beginning May 2010 — that have put enormous fishing pressure on the cod stocks of Stellwagen and other inshore fishing grounds.

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