New England Fisheries

Feds Propose New Management Measures for Gulf of Maine Cod Recreational Fishery

Gulf of Maine cod are not on track to rebuild by 2024. Image via NEFSC/NOAA.

Recreational fishing is a favorite pastime for many New Englanders. Unfortunately, due to low population levels and concerns about catch limit overages, the recreational possession of New England’s most iconic fish – Atlantic cod – has been prohibited in the Gulf of Maine (federal waters) in recent years. For now, this prohibition is still in place, but NOAA Fisheries has proposed reopening the Gulf of Maine cod recreational fishery for the 2019 fishing year.

The new management measures would allow a daily possession limit of one Gulf of Maine cod at a minimum 21 inches during two short seasons, September 15-30 and April 15-30. This may seem like a small change, but there is no meaningful basis for increasing fishing pressure on Gulf of Maine cod.

Long gone are the days when you could walk across water on the backs of cod. In the Gulf of Maine, cod have been overfished for decades and remain subject to overfishing. While the stock is technically under a rebuilding plan, scientists say that it is not rebuilding on schedule and is only a fraction of a healthy population level. There are also no positive signs of recruitment, and the stock exhibits a truncated size and age structure, which is indicative of a population experiencing high mortality. Furthermore, managers and scientists do not even know how many cod are actually being caught at-sea because of low monitoring coverage and lack of accountability throughout the groundfish fishery.

Does this sound like a fish that we should be targeting?

In addition to the continued poor state of the Gulf of Maine cod stock, there is high uncertainty associated with the New England Fishery Management Council’s and NOAA Fisheries’ projected recreational catch estimates for the 2019 fishing year. So, there is a chance that the catch limit will be exceeded. For example, when the prohibition on recreational possession of Gulf of Maine cod was lifted in 2016, it had to be reinstated the following year because predicted catch was underestimated and the harvest limit was exceeded by 92 percent. In fact, as NOAA Fisheries even explains in its proposed rule, the recreational harvest limits for Gulf of Maine cod have been exceeded in four out of the last five years (not including 2018 since final reports for the fishing year are not yet available).

It will be a great day when we can recreationally catch and land Gulf of Maine cod, but let’s wait a little longer to help ensure the future health of the stock.

NOAA Fisheries is collecting public comment on the proposed rule through May 28, 2019.


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