Federal regulators denied a request from a coalition of environmental groups to prohibit fishing of Gulf of Maine cod, an important and historic food species that is spawning at low levels.

New England fishermen have sought Gulf of Maine cod for centuries, but regulators and scientists have said the stock is imperiled because the level of cod spawning in the Gulf of Maine is a tiny fraction of its target. Federal fishing regulators reduced the Gulf of Maine cod catch limit from 1,550 metric tons to 386 metric tons for the fishing year that started on May 1.

A group of environmental organizations including the Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace petitioned the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service to shut down the fishery until it shows rebuilding progress. The agency said in a denial published in the Federal Register on July 10 that the current restrictions on cod fishing will “provide sufficient protection” to rebuild the stock.

The denial also states that the fisheries service intends to monitor updated information about the cod stock that will become available later this year. Regulators will make adjustments if necessary, the denial states.

Current restrictions on fishing cod were crafted “taking into account the needs of fishing communities, without compromising conservation objectives to prevent overfishing and rebuild the stock,” the denial states.

The strict quotas and low abundance of Gulf of Maine cod have made the fish difficult to find in New England seafood markets. Foreign sources remain relatively easy to come by. The fish is a preferred species for fish and chips.

The refusal to prohibit Gulf of Maine cod fishing is a blow for environmentalists, who will continue to advocate for strict monitoring and regulating of the fishery, said Catherine Ware Kilduff, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

“This is an iconic fish species. It has been in trouble for quite a few years now,” she said. “We need to do whatever we can to save it, and take all measures.”

The other environmental groups that petitioned to shut down Gulf of Maine cod fishing were SandyHook SeaLife Foundation and Turtle Island Restoration Network.

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