2 Feb 2012
Hello everyone I am writing this after I have returned from a 12 hour meeting with the New England Fisheries Management Council meeting which was held in Portsmouth, NH on Feb 1.
The primary, really only item on the agenda, was the what to do about cod fishing in the Gulf of Maine this year. I will try to give you a brief synopsis of what has transpired these past few months.
In 2008 the National Marine Fisheries Service conducted their annual survey trawls in the GOM. The results of that trawl caused jubilation at NMFS as the survey found the cod where not being overfished and the stocks were rebuilt. Corks popped and the champagne flowed.
Fast forward to 2011. NMFS has now purchased a new improved survey vessel (F/V Henry Bigelow) and went about executing the survey. With “new improved scientific methodology” being employed the Service was shocked to find the 22,000 Metric Tons of cod had disappeared and the stocks where now in jeopardy of collapse. Put that cork back in the bottle!
The assessment was reviewed by other scientists was deemed valid. Unfortunately for NMFS, as real fisherman started looking at the assessment many questions where raised as to its validity. Some issues discussed where
Rigging the vessel with nets designed to only work on mud bottom and not ledge areas where cod are often found. Vessel tow speeds were faster and due to its draft the Bigelow was unable to fish shallower waters were cod are found.
100% mortality rate on all cod released (all those tagged fish we caught were really dead). In terms of recreational fishing, all the released cod where considered dead and added to the retained side. Because of this calculation, it was the determined that 60% of all cod caught in the GOM were taken by recreational anglers and commercial fisherman on accounted for 40%. I knew you guys are good fisherman but that number is ridiculous!
The actual VTR reports from recreational vessels (charter boats) showed that actual catch rates were 75% lower than what the scientists used in the assessment. In fact, the VTRs were virtually ignored
ETC ETC ETC....a real mess.
Meetings for fishery managers and scientists took place during December and January on what to do. Reports of a complete shutdown of the GOM started circulating and the stake holders started voicing strong statements against NMFS’s assessment.
A peer review of the Assessment was done in mid January and was deemed credible by a group of four PHDs picked by NMFS. You can guess the results of the review I am sure.
The NMFS informed the NEFMC that they were accepting the assessment as valid and that under the Magnuson Act the Council must act to end over fishing. The law has a provision to allow for a one year interim rule during which time overfishing must be reduced (but not eliminated) while a new rebuilding plan was developed. This option was the only avenue left for the Council to consider other than eliminating cod fishing in the GOM immediately. This approach was chosen and lead to yesterday’s meeting.
I attended the meeting and can confirm it was indeed a long and contentious day. The "science" was questioned by many both on the Council and the stake holders present. In the long run, NMFS made it very clear that they are accepting the current assessment as valid and will base their decisions on it with consideration given to Council recommendations.
As far as recreational fisherman are concerned it appears that we will be taking a reduction in the cod bag limit (not specified in the Council recommendation as it will be based on a percentage of the commercial sectors final TAC) and it was recommended that the haddock emergency action (which reduced the haddock bag limit to 8 fish PP) be removed. This is a result of new data that now shows that recreational fisherman actually caught 20% less than their actual Total Allowable Catch (TAC) and did not exceed it as the previous "scientific data" had indicated. Bad data strikes NMFS again.
Also, there was no recommendation on the part of the Council to either reduce fishing days or close the WGOM to cod fishing. Lets hope the NMFS concurs. That being said, the ball is now in NMFS court and they in the end will decide. If the recommendations are listened to, the charter/party boat industry has a chance at survival.
My personal belief is that when the cod season opens on April 16th we will still have a 10 cod, 24” min. bag limit and haddock will returned to either no bag or a substantial increased (15-20 fish PP) limit. On May 1, the beginning of the new fishing calendar year, cod limit will be reduced to between 5 & 8 fish per angler for recreational anglers. This would allow fisherman to still have the potential for taking home a good amount of fillets between cod, haddock and pollack. Keep your fingers crossed as this is the best scenario we can hope for to give us a successful season.
Anyone who is interested in reading more about this saga may look on the noreast.com site in the fisheries management forum where there are extensive threads devoted to the issue.