NOAA's emergency interim measures to protect Gulf of Maine cod will not include additional cuts to the species' already meager quota, but will rely on closing areas where the cod are congregating — most of which lay off of Cape Ann and southern New Hampshire, NOAA Regional Administrator John K. Bullard announced today.
Those closures are expected to have a disproportionate negative impact on Gloucester and other groundfish ports such as Scituate and Portsmouth, N.H., where the small-boat day fleets don't have the range or capacity to travel out to the open areas in their search for cod and other groundfish.
The measures go into effect on Thursday and will run for six months, with the possibility of being rolled over for another six months — thereby potentially spanning the entire 2015 fishing season.
"We're trying to isolate cod by pinpointing where they're aggragating," Bullard said.
Bullard said the agency did not include quota cuts out of deference to the groundfishermen who decided to wait until later in the fishing year to begin using their quota, though it will press the New England Fishery Management Council to include additional withering cuts — possibly as much as 75 percent — to the cod quota in its management plan for 2015, urging a reduction from the current 1550 metric tons to somewhere within a range of 200 metric tons to 386 metric tons.
That would be on top of the roughly 77 percent cut cod in cod quota instituted in 2013.
Bullard said the agency is doubling the quota on Gulf of Maine haddock for the remainder of the 2014 season to help offset the anticipated decline in cod revenues and landings in the wake of the area closures. Fishermen, however, will not be allowed to fish for the haddock or other groundfish species in the newly closed areas.
The Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition was quick to criticize the measures, saying they will result in a "shutdown of fishing for groundfish in the Gulf of Maine" and go "far and beyond" the reported protection for the Gulf of Maine cod stock.
The coalition also accused NOAA of reverting to fishery management tools "they argued just years earlier were not working to rebuild the fish stocks" and deviating from its statutory responsibility of striking a balance between conservation and community interests.
We will update this story here at gloucestertimes. com, as well as on Twitter and Facebook as more information becomes available.