Cod catch

The New England Fishery Management Council is recommending a 754 metric ton acceptable biological catch limit for Georges Bank cod for both the U.S. and Canadian fisheries for the 2022 fishing year.

GLOUCESTER — To help rebuild what NOAA scientists say is a Georges Bank cod stock that appears to be overfished, the New England Fishery Management Council on Wednesday unanimously set new rules that would drastically reduce the cod catch in the fishing year 2022 that begins May 1.

The cuts could cost the Gloucester fleet $1 million in revenue.

The council set limits on both commercial and recreational Georges Bank cod fisheries as it voted to pass along all components of so-called Framework 63 management measures to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which still has to approve this package of recommendations.

After several hours of debate and several back-and-forth amendments, the council declined to remand back to its Scientific and Statistical Committee its recommendations on a 57% lower acceptable biological catch of Georges Bank cod.

New England Fishery Management Council member Elizabeth “Libby” Etrie, program director of the fishing membership organization Northeast Service Sector, Inc. of Gloucester, appeared to have found a compromise position between a remand, which could have delayed the implementation of new fishing rules, and setting a 754 metric ton cod catch for three years, as the scientific panel had originally recommended.

The council took up her substitute motion, voting 17-0 for a 754 metric ton acceptable biological catch limit for Georges Bank cod for both the U.S. and Canadian fisheries for the 2022 fishing year, instead of having the scientific panel go back to the drawing board on its recommendations.

That works out to be 343 metric tons of Georges Bank cod for U.S. fisheries, according to the Groundfish Committee Report. It’s a drastic reduction in the cod catch limit.

In the current fishing year, the total acceptable biological catch for Georges Bank cod is 1,752 metric tons, with 1,308 metric tons set aside for U.S. fisheries, including 1,093 metric tons for the U.S. commercial fishery.

In the Groundfish Committee report, the council also heard a presentation on the economic impact of the new cod catch limits. Gloucester and New Bedford would experience revenue decreases of $1 million under a so-called Georges Bank cod sub-annual catch limit of 169 metric tons, relative to 255 metric tons, the report said.

Representatives of the fishing industry expressed concern about lack of data on the cod catch due to the dearth of surveys in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, and worries about the socio-economic impact on the fishing industry. However, the council did not set targets for fishing years 2023 and 2024 as recommended by its scientific panel. That’s something its Scientific and Statistical Committee will have to revisit.

“I’m hoping that people recognize how difficult a 754-metric-ton-ABC is going to be for the commercial fishery in 2022,” said Maggie Raymond, the executive director of the Associated Fisheries of Maine. “In this current fishing year, the sectors have caught, up until the end of November, 218 metric tons of Georges Bank cod with five months left in the fishing year. So, how we are going to manage 165 tons across all of the sectors is almost unimaginable. How we are going to do that?”

Raymond said she appreciated the support for a remand of the scientific panel’s findings. “This is going to be very, very difficult year for the commercial fishery.”

The council also set limits on the recreational catch for Georges Bank cod at 75 metric tons, but it did not set recreational limits for fishing years 2023 and 2024. The recreational management measures included a size limit of 22 to 28 inches, five fish per angler per day, and a closed season from May 1 to July 31.

The motion also provided the regional administrator authority to adjust recreational management measures for Georges Bank cod in consultation with the council in fishing years 2023 and 2024 “to stay within the catch target selected by the council.”

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-675-2714, or by email at eforman@northofboston.com.

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