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January 24, 2012

Seafood group eyes 'interim' cod rules

New England's largest fishing industry group, the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, Tuesday cited the case of the disappearing codfish stock as a sign of "a flaw in fishery policy" that makes impossible demands on science in an effort to predict developments in the ocean ecosystem.

And it predicted that, without new flexibility written into it, the Magnuson-Stevens Act's rebuilding policy "is doomed to fail again and again."

On the eve of today's publication in Providence of a peer-reviewed assessment of the inshore cod population by the NOAA Science Center in Woods Hole, the seafood coalition urged the federal fishery management system to halt the normal process of setting what is expected to be an economically devastating catch limit on Gulf of Maine cod based on the pessimistic findings and a rigid legal deadline for restoring the stock to sustainability.

Instead, the coalition recommends that the Science and Statistical Committee of the New England Fishery Management Council, which hosts today's meeting, adopt an "interim catch level that achieves at least in the short term— one year — the overarching intent of Congress in the Magnuson-Stevens Act to strike a balance between ... achieving a sustainable resource and a sustainable fishery."

The new cod assessment dramatically contradicts the rosy picture painted only three years earlier for the wild stock on which the New England groundfishery industry most depends — and continues to report finding strong concentrations of cod in the expected places and far beyond.

The clash between the assessments and the empirical experience of fishermen underscore one of the underlying disputes about assessment methodology — NOAA's refusal to expand its assessment model to include what is known as CPUE — catch per unit effort — essentially government jargon for how easily a stock is caught.

The coalition, which represents hundreds of boats and shoreside businesses throughout the region, made its recommendations in a lengthy year-end memo to the New England congressional delegation that was abridged before submission to the Times for publication today (See page 5).

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