BOSTON – Scientists have backed a dismal health assessment of Gulf of Maine cod that could have a devastating impact on the 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, Mass.

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

Ending fishing for cod could shut down fishing in the 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 groundfishermen.

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

Gulf of Maine cod has historically been crucial to small-boat fishermen from Massachusetts to Maine, who catch it on day trips. In 2010, the species brought in $15.8 million, 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 has led fishing industry members to question the reliability of the new assessment.

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

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

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