It’s too early to gauge the legitimacy of the latest NOAA science and assessment of the Gulf of Maine cod stocks.
But given that the latest assessments may yield cuts in cod landing limits of up to 86 percent over the already diminished current year, NOAA and its New England Fishery Management Council owe it to all fishermen to do a thorough review of the methodology that’s gone into a study that could virtually wipe out the Northeast groundfishing industry for the new fishing year beginning May 1.
NOAA regional administrator John Bullard should do all he can to buy time before setting limits that will decimate the industry by virtually taking away its most important stock. That means seeking the route proposed by the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, which is urging him to try to extend under the Magnuson-Stevens Act for a second year the current policy of trimming the limits by 22 percent — a level that would obviously further preserve the stock, yet allow fishermen to at least earn an admittedly reduced living while officials look to verify stock science that has held little or no credibility in the past.
The new stock assessments should come as no surprise; they follow a November 2011 study that stunned fishermen and others across the industry, largely because it stood in sharp contrast to a far more positive assessment taken in late 2008. Yet the new assessments, once again, included no input or monitoring by rank-and-file fishermen, who know the ins and outs of the industry, including where and how specific stocks are located and caught.
This week, the New England Fishery Management Council is set to gather for its monthly meeting in Portsmouth, N.H., to consider setting the 2013 catch limits. But it cannot even consider limits that will essentially shut down an entire industry without true verification of the data leading to the kind of cuts proposed.
That’s why the council should also press Bullard to step up and impose a second interim option that should at least keep the cod fishery functional — and then let a truly cooperative stock study begin.