New England Fisheries

Mass DMF Suspends Important Groundfish Closure

Image via Mass DMF.

If there’s a fish that defines Massachusetts, it’s Atlantic cod. After all, there is a wooden carving of one hanging in the State House. But unfortunately, our favorite fish has seen better days. Centuries of intense fishing have forced regional cod stocks to historic lows, and that’s why it was concerning when the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (Mass DMF) decided to suspend an area closure that would have provided important protection for Atlantic cod in local waters.

Towards the end of March, Mass DMF announced that it was suspending the April Commercial Gulf of Maine Groundfish Closure for 2019 (see map above) because the state-waters fishery is well under its allocated quota for the fishing year and doing so would not jeopardize federal rebuilding goals for overfished stocks, such as Atlantic cod. While it’s important to create additional fishing opportunity when possible, there are a couple of major reasons why Mass DMF’s decision is an issue.

First, the state fishery may be under its quota, but these quotas are based on flawed catch data to begin with. And Mass DMF is well aware of this. In a newsletter issued last year, Mass DMF Director Dr. David Pierce stated “I have learned from NMFS of incidents of elevated levels of cod discards (2,000-3,000 pounds of cod per trip).” The issue is that these cod are not being accounted for in the data used to inform quotas, and discarding will continue to be a problem until full accountability is achieved in the groundfish fishery.

Second, cod in the Gulf of Maine has been overfished for nearly three decades and currently has between a zero and 26 percent chance of rebuilding on schedule. Problematically, the April Groundfish Closure that Mass DMF suspended overlaps with a federal spawning closure set for April 15-30. Given the prolonged overfished state of cod and its current rebuilding trajectory, it’s puzzling as to how Mass DMF could conclude that the suspension does not interfere with federal rebuilding goals when state vessels will be allowed to fish in an area that is supposed to be protecting spawning cod.

Lastly, it’s concerning that Mass DMF suspended the closure prior to collecting public comments and that public comments were only requested to inform “future decision-making regarding this closure.” Our fisheries are a public resource and the agency should have requested public comment to inform this year’s suspension, not just future decisions.

For those interested, Mass DMF is collecting comments on the suspension of the Aril Groundfish Closure through 5pm tomorrow, April 12th. Comments can be emailed to marine.fish@state.ma.us.


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