To the Editor:
The New England lobster industry is experiencing a boom in terms of its catch.
Maine catches have climbed sharply in recent years with many crediting the increase to regulations aimed at sustaining the lobster population.
This was not the case in the 1980s, when population levels were at a low and concerns over whether the lobster would become extinct abounded. However, as the lobster industry is slowly recovering, the health of the cod industry is in decline.
While many look to rebuild the ailing cod population — much like the lobster industry —with a prescription of regulatory measures, more can be done to ensure the livelihood of the Massachusetts cod fishing industry and the coastal economy.
This past May, federal officials enacted a severe cut in how much Gulf of Maine cod fishermen can catch—a 22 percent cut from what fishermen were allowed to catch last year, creating an uncertain future for the tens of thousands of jobs relying on the Massachusetts fishing industry.
The recent 22 percent cutback is only buying time for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as it will set a new limit in 2013, which many believe will be at a more drastic and devastating level for the cod fishing industry.
While the cod fishing industry has continuously relied on catch limits as a way to maintain a sustainable yield, many argue that the data and information being used to determine the cutbacks are flawed. At the same time, a recent assessment of cod populations showed that even if all cod fishing was halted for two years, the stocks would not be considered “rebuilt.” This begs the question, are catch limits the end-all solution?
I believe that policy makers and seafood industry leaders can enliven the declining cod population via the introduction of “cod pots” to the Massachusetts cod fishery, a technology successfully used in Alaska, Canada, Sweden, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Norway. There’s only one problem — cod pots must be approved by the Massachusetts legislators, yet very few key stakeholder audiences are interested in learning about the issue.
Without question, the cost of and disposability of cod pots, in comparison to more traditional methods of cod fishing such as nets and draggers, are additional barriers to adoption. However, when the lobster industry was previously struggling, my invention of mesh “lobster pots” helped reinvigorate the stock to the level it is today. Presently, these pots, similar to those I developed for cod fishing, are used in more than 90 percent of New England traps. What was done for lobsters must now be done for cod.
With the pots, cod are caught alive, meaning fishermen are able to be selective with their catch, resulting in a higher quality, less damaged catch as well as allowing fishermen to release undesirable “bycatch” or young cod unharmed.
Pots are also a passive gear, unlike nets, and do not disturb the ocean bottom or harm the development of smaller species vital to the fish food chain.
Cuts in catch limits will eventually rebuild the cod population, but at a cost to local fishermen. Furthermore, the cutbacks are only as useful as the data provided to set them. The future of the cod species and New England fishing villages are both at stake. Massachusetts legislators owe it to residents and fishermen to take a serious look at less traditional and more innovative ideas such as cod pots to reinvigorate the cod stock and the fishing industry.
JIM KNOTT Sr.
Founder, Riverdale Mills, Northbridge