, Gloucester, MA

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October 27, 2011

Study: Cod now in dire straits

Gulf of Maine cod, the lifeblood of the inshore fishing fleet centered around Gloucester, appears to have undergone a dramatic and inexplicable decline in recent years, according to an authoritative marine scientist on the NOAA Science Center team.

Steven Cadrin, a member of the regional fishery management council's Scientific and Statistical Committee team, told the Times Thursday that the assessment of Gulf of Maine cod, which is preliminary and subject to peer reviewing, points to a finding 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.

The time needed for completing the assessment, getting it peer reviewed, and then processing the results to reach a recommended adjustment in the rebuilding plan will push the issue into 2012 — an election year — and may set off a potentially fierce battle in an ongoing struggle between conservation and community preservation interests.

That pending struggle between hard-line conservation interests allied with NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco and fishing communities with their state and federal legislative backers was described by state Sen. Bruce Tarr as an "Armageddon" scenario just as the presidential and U.S. Senate election cycle gets underway.

End of the line?

For the inshore day boats from Maine to Cape Cod — already facing an uphill struggle to survive with the bigger boats and better capitalized businesses under Lubchenco's and NOAA's catch share management system — access to cod is considered an essential for survival.

Without cod, said Richard Burgess, who owns and operates four Gloucester day boats, "The business of the small boat fleet will come to an end as we know it."

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