New England Fisheries

A New Groundfish Season Brings More of the Same

Image via Northeast Fisheries Science Center.

The 2019 fishing year kicked off yesterday, May 1, for New England’s groundfish fishery. Given the federal government shutdown earlier this year, though, NOAA Fisheries was unable to finalize Groundfish Framework 58, which means that management changes – such as updated catch limits – that would typically come with a new fishing year will be slightly delayed.

Fear not, fishermen will still be able to fish because our management process thankfully has a built-in back-up plan in the event that management action has not – or in this case, cannot – be taken in time. Last year’s Framework 57, which set 2018 catch limits, also set 2019 catch limits for all groundfish stocks. These catch limits, which are the same or similar to last year’s, will be used as default limits until NOAA Fisheries decides on Framework 58 (a proposed rule is currently out for public comment).

Even if Framework 58 is approved, only sevens stocks will see revised catch limits. Unfortunately, one of these stocks is Georges Bank cod.

Take Caution with Catch Limit Increases

New England’s fishery managers have a troubling history of implementing short-term stock adjustments rather than taking a big picture precautionary approach to managing and conserving our public resources. Framework 58 proposes a 15 percent increase for the Georges Bank cod catch limit in 2019, only a year after the catch limit was increased by 139 percent. The problem here is that the stock remains in poor condition, and if anything, it has probably worsened.

Georges Bank cod is overfished and has been for more than three decades. The stock also exhibits a truncated age structure, i.e. fewer juvenile and large adult cod, which is indicative of a population experiencing high mortality. Additionally, the stock’s assessment model was rejected back in 2015, meaning that scientists cannot make future projections for the stock and it’s rebuilding status is unknown. On top of all of this, low at-sea monitoring coverage has created an accountability issue in New England’s groundfish fishery, and illegal discarding of low quota stocks like cod has become common behavior.

Under these conditions, it seems simply irresponsible to be increasing the Georges Bank cod catch limit. On the bright side, maybe it means that some cod currently being illegally discarded on unobserved trips may instead be landed and included in catch data.

Comments on Framework 58 are being collected through Monday, May 6, 2019. The proposed rule and comment portal is available here.


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