Opinion

CLF Calls to Shut Down New England Cod Fishery

The regulation released today preserves protections for vital habitat areas like Cashes Ledge, shown here. These areas help restore depleted populations of cod and other species. (Photo credit: Brian Skerry)

The regulation released today preserves protections for vital habitat areas like Cashes Ledge, shown here. These areas help restore depleted populations of cod and other species. (Photo credit: Brian Skerry)

Yesterday the story of New England’s cod fishery took another tragic turn when the New England Fishery Management Council voted to drastically cut catch limits for New England’s two cod stocks—Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank cod—by 77 and 61 percent, respectively.

The Council’s action follows months of scientific debate on appropriate catch limits for cod. Recent assessments showed stocks at the lowest levels ever recorded and declining rapidly:

  • Georges Bank cod biomass is at just 7% of healthy, sustainable levels.
  • Gulf of Maine cod biomass is at 13-18% of healthy, sustainable levels.
  • The last better-than-average year for young Georges Bank cod production was 1991.
  • The amount of younger fish becoming available for fishing, known as recruitment, has been at the lowest estimated levels ever for the last five years running.

Confirming this dismal outlook, fishermen have been unable to find enough cod to even come close to filling their small quotas. The fish just aren’t there any more.

Despite this grim outlook, some in the industry asked for interim measures that would allow devastating overfishing to continue for yet another year, and the Massachusetts fisheries agency representative on the Council inexplicably asked for catch levels that were higher than the highest recommendations from scientists. NOAA regional administrator John Bullard rejected these efforts as legally and biologically unjustifiable.

Bullard told the Council yesterday that the “day of reckoning” for the fishery had arrived and that further management denial about the true state of the stocks could not be sanctioned. In this context, the Council chose to cut the catch – even in the face of industry opposition.

But the action to cut cod quota did not go far enough. The options implemented by the Council are the least aggressive cuts allowable by law, and under some assessments they still authorize overfishing. They push the limits of scientific advice and put the short-term economic interests over the long-term health of New England’s cod fishery and the viability of a whole generation of groundfishermen. Years of similarly short-sighted decision-making have caused the current biological disaster.

The Council unanimously rejected a motion to shut down the cod fishery entirely—an option that the NMFS Regional Director labeled as irresponsible, but one that may be the only chance for the recovery of New England’s cod stocks.

Canada took similar action to shut down its cod fishery in 1992, when its stocks were in a state remarkably similar to New England’s current disaster. Even their action in retrospect was too little and too late to avert a social and economic calamity; tens of thousands of people were put out of work, and cod stocks have still not fully recovered.

Unlike Canada, however, New England fishing communities are unlikely to see massive disaster relief funds. The New England Fishery Management Council now owns this problem and will bear full responsibility for the long term biological and socio-economic  consequences of their decision. While CLF hopes that the Council’s gamble is not reckless, decades of bad Council bets in the past and the current scientific advice do not bode well. Time will tell.

Now is not the time for denial. It is not the time for timid decisions and taking unconscionable risks. It is time to make the painful, necessary steps towards a better future for fishing in New England. Rather than arguing over the scraps left after decades of mismanagement, we should shut the cod fishery down and protect whatever cod are left.

 


Comments

4 Responses to CLF Calls to Shut Down New England Cod Fishery

  • Skip DeBrusk says:

    I agree !! Better to shut the cod fishery down rather than fighting over the scraps. Shutting down reduces the chances of cheating ( sadly, a high probability ) and increases the chances of a solid recovery.

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  • Sal Clem says:

    Shutting down cod.

    There is no recovery with 8 million lobster traps in the Northeast.
    I lobstered for years and we caught a hundred of lbs of cod per week in the spring and summer.
    They all catch cod as bycatch, and pollute the ocean with decaying fish.
    800 million lbs of decaying fish matter in the benthic zone in the Gulf of Maine and they wonder why no fish?

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  • bill amaru says:

    Peter:

    Does “painful and necessary” decisions to save the fishery include a dialogue to bring the exploding numbers of marine mammals taking a larger and larger portion of remaining cod into account? Could you argue as forcefully for delisting gray and other seal species from protection under MMPA mandates? If forty years of fishing on the backside of Cape Cod have taught me anything it is that the incredible numbers of seals we now see year round will never let our inshore or offshore stocks of cod ever rebuild, just as they have not in Atlantic Canada. Our fleet no longer even approaches the number of cod eaten by seals nor will it under these quota cuts you believe are irresponsible. The irresponsible acts we suffer from are ones of omission, leaving out the changes we are causing by not including those causes of mortality, environmental changes. All four of my Grandsons love fishing and all four of them will have a chance to go to sea and catch fish. We are not going away, thank you very much.

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