April 9, 2012 – LAST WEEK’S decision by fishing regulators to reduce in the amount of cod that can be taken from the Gulf of Maine by 22 percent is an unfortunate, but necessary, move that should provide enough leeway for fishermen to prepare for potentially greater cuts in the future.
Overfishing of cod is an old story in New England, where stocks dwindled from 50 million pounds in 1990 to just 16 million in 1998. Under a 10-year set of limits enacted in 2004, the stocks were supposed to rebound to a healthy, sustainable level of 128 million pounds of adult fish by 2014. However, scientists estimated this winter that there are still only 26 million pounds of spawning cod in the gulf. Even if no fishing were allowed the next two years, stocks would not reach their target by 2014.
That left the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, long vilified by many fishermen, and often criticized by the Massachusetts congressional delegation, with an extremely difficult problem: How to further reduce fishing levels without destroying the livelihood of the fleet. Its decision, working with recommendations from the New England Fishery Management Council, was to issue a one-year cut of 22 percent, to give the fleets time to prepare for a larger cut in 2013.