December 2, 2011

Panel of scientists backs dismal cod assessment

The Associated Press

BOSTON — Scientists have backed a dismal health assessment of Gulf of Maine cod that could have a devastating impact on the local fishing industry.

The Gloucester Daily Times reports that a peer review panel issued its findings Thursday during a meeting at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Science Center in Woods Hole.

The panel upheld an initial finding that even if all fishing on Gulf of Maine cod ended, the species was overfished and can't rebuild by a 2014 federal deadline.

Ending fishing on cod could shut down fishing in the entire Gulf of Maine for other bottom-dwelling groundfish, since such fish swim among cod.

A final report and recommendation on how to move forward will be presented in January by a scientific committee that reports to regional managers. Committee member Steve Cadrin said it promises nothing good for the groundfishmen.

"Even in the best-case scenario, the impact will still be devastating," he told the Times.

Gulf of Maine cod has historically been crucial to small boat fishermen from Provincetown to Maine, who catch it on day trips. In 2010, the species brought in $15.8 million in revenues, second-highest behind Georges Bank haddock among the region's 20 regulated groundfish.

The grim assessment comes just three years after a major study showed Gulf of Maine cod rebounding. That's led fishing industry members to question the reliability of the new assessment.

Cadrin said large hauls by the survey vessels that catch the fish samples used in stock assessments might have contributed to an overly optimistic report in 2008.

Scientists also say commercial and recreational fishermen are now catching Gulf of Maine cod at a rate nearly five times higher than what's considered sustainable.

Even with the dire cod assessment, regulators have alternatives beside a fishery shutdown. For instance, they could move to push back the 2014 rebuilding deadline for the species, which would ease possible restrictions.


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