NMFS Northeast Region
N E W SGloucester, MA--After four years of fishing under rules intended to promote recovery of the region's storied groundfish stocks, measures may finally have achieved harvest rates that set the stage for stabilizing, and reversing, declines in Gulf of Maine cod stocks.
"The total Gulf of Maine cod landings are likely to be near this fishing year's target of approximately 3 million pounds," says NOAA Fisheries Northeast Regional Administrator Patricia Kurkul, "That compares with landings in 1996, 1997, and 1998 that were double the target. That's real progress, and we need to stay the course."
NOAA Fisheries is the federal agency responsible for the nation's fisheries in federal waters. Kurkul is one member of the New England Fishery Management Council, an appointed body that devises management plans for commercial and recreational marine fisheries in the region. The council meets today to make final decisions about adjustments to groundfish rules for the next fishing year, which begins in May.
There are four ground fishing proposals before the council, each using similar measures. These include closures of some areas during months when cod are aggregated to spawn, closures to protect prime cod habitat, limits on cod landings per fishing trip, and various restraints intended to pace fishing effort over the fishing year.
"After four disappointing years, industry and the council appear to have developed rules that have improved prospects for Gulf of Maine stocks," Kurkul says. "I look forward to a frank discussion of each proposal for fishing year 2000. The best option will be one that is most likely to protect and extend these gains."
Kurkul has one vote on the 17-member council, which is composed of state fishery managers and private citizens nominated by governors and appointed by the Secretary of Commerce. The Department of Commerce must also review the plan that is submitted by the council to make sure that it meets standards set in federal law. The Department can disapprove all or part of a plan under the law, but it may not change any part of a plan unilaterally.
Gulf of Maine cod are among the most dramatically depleted of the region's groundfish stocks. The extremely low levels of spawning stock and a persistent lack of good survival of very young fish have led to measures that are intended to protect mature fish and promote spawning success. Several other groundfish stocks in the Gulf of Maine (for example, white hake, yellowtail flounder and American plaice ) are also seriously depleted. Measures that reduce mortality of cod have a high probability of relieving pressure on these other stocks as well.