The New England Fishery Management Council has approved drastic new cuts in cod fishing.
The Council, meeting in Portsmouth, voted 14 to 3 to pass the cuts for three years in the Gulf of Maine, beginning this Spring. The vote followed nearly ten hours of discussion and heated opposition by fishermen in New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts. As approved, it will trim the allowable yearly cod catch from 6700 metric tons down to 1550 metric tons.
During the council meeting, members heard that a new study shows the cod population off the New England coast is not rebounding from extremely low levels.
But David Goethel, a member of the panel questioned the findings. He said that any further reduction will mean extinction for people employed in the groundfishing industry. Goethel did say that he would support a reduction up to 4 thousand tons but he believes cod population levels will never come back fully.
“Close it down altogether, and I would be willing to bet that no longer how long it’s closed, you’ll never reach these reference points. But at least then, you won’t have the fishermen to kick around anymore.”
Other members of the committee disagreed with Goethel, some saying that his complete closure proposal was “emotional and reactionary.” John Bullard, who is the top Federal fishing regulator, conceded that stopping or decreasing cod fishing may not cause a rebound in the species. But he opposed shutting it down completely.
“It is an action that an individual fisherman can take. If you don’t want to fish if this number is as good as zero, an individual can take that action. But I think for us to take and impose that action would be irresponsible right now.”
Maggie Raymond, Executive Director of the Associated Fisheries of Maine, said after the vote that she agrees that the draconian cut in the catch will have serious economic consequences in the three states’ fishing communities.
"There’s going to be an economic downturn like we haven’t see ever in the fishing industry. I don’t know how we’re going to prepare for that, but that’s what we’re looking at."
The panel also took action to reduce the codfish harvest in George’s Bank off the Massachusetts Coast. The reduction was less drastic, from the current 4200 metric tons to 2506 metric tons.