“The first thing we have to do is put denial behind us.”

That’s John Bullard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s top federal fisheries regulator, speaking of The New England Fishery Management Council’s decision Wednesday to approve a whopping yearto year 77 percent reduction in the number of cod that can be caught in the Gulf of Maine.

The cuts come on top of other reductions, ranging from 10 to 71 percent, on the catch of other bottom-dwelling groundfish, such as haddock and flounder, considered crucial to Mid-coast Maine and other maritime areas of New England.

The tragedy here is no one wins. Fishermen are going to ground their boats and be forced out of work. The fishery may never be restored to harvestable levels. Consumers will face higher prices and fewer choices. A romantic and honest way of life — one that helped build our region — could be lost.

How did we get here? Denial. By fishermen, but also by regulators.

The fishery was so intensively exploited over a period of years — including by foreign fleets — that this day was inevitable unless regulations had been put in place many, many decades earlier than 2007.

That’s when the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act reauthorization was signed into law, requiring catch limits for all federally managed fisheries.

The irony is that fishermen seem to think any limits are unfair. They have consistently disputed the accuracy of the science that drives catch limits. And they note the industry has fished at or below levels recommended by science for years — to no avail.

The formula for deciding how large a catch to permit is complex, and depends on how often fish spawn, how much warmer the water is in an era of global warming and sea-level rise, how many fishing licenses are issued, what type of equipment is used, how scientists count fish and how regulators choose to enforce limits.

It’s an evolving process — not an exact science. Even regulators would admit that. We certainly don’t pretend to understand it.

Lurking below all is the fact that habitat loss, pollution and environmental change are negatively affecting the ability of humans to exploit every natural resource, at least in the ways we have in the past. The Atlantic fishery is only one example (and calling it a fishery is a denial in itself, as it posits the value of fish only as a harvestable commercial resource, with no other intrinsic value in ocean ecology).

With the support of state-backed grants, Maine is an emerging leader in aquaculture.

We are a state whose boat building capabilities remain second to none.

We raise and sell bait, process seafood for market and employ a marine services industry that’s essential to the Mid-coast economy.

Our lobster fishery faces its own challenges, but appears to be healthy.

Unless we want to see the curtailment of groundfishing affect all those areas of our economy, we’d better start now, take inventory of our hard-earned blessings, and begin to use Yankee ingenuity to find new ways to keep Maine’s marine economy at work. To do otherwise would only be another denial.