Gloucester Times: NOAA to Reconsider Emergency Gulf of Maine Cod Measures

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The fishing sector-based proposal to remove some of the most restrictive emergency cod measures in the Gulf of Maine, initially rejected by NOAA Fisheries, is back in play.

Responding to a Jan. 22 letter written by U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton and co-signed by four other members of the Bay State's congressional delegation, NOAA Fisheries now says the alternative cod management proposal developed by the Gloucester Fishing Community Preservation Fund and Northeast Fishing Sector 4 "warrants further consideration."

NOAA informed Moulton on Wednesday night that it will revisit the alternative cod management proposal put forth by the fishing sectors and other fishing advocates.

"Fishermen, environmentalists and others share a commitment to ensuring a sustainable fishery for future generations," Moulton said today in a statement. "I am grateful that NOAA will revisit how we go about accomplishing that goal."

In the Jan. 22 letter, the first-term congressman and his colleagues went to bat for the plan largely developed by GFCPF Executive Director Vito Giacalone and widely endorsed by sectors and other fishing advocates and stakeholders.

That plan proposed fishing sectors would surrender up to 60 metric tons of their annual cod catch entitlement if NOAA would relax or eliminate some of the emergency cod measures it instituted last November after a surprise and unscheduled stock assessment last summer showed the Gulf of Maine cod stock to be highly imperiled.

Most specifically, the GFCPF plan sought the elimination of the 200-pound trip limit for cod bycatch _ which they said would cut cod mortality by reducing discards _ and the opening of broad stock area closures so fishermen could have access to healthier and more plentiful species such as haddock, redfish and winter pollock without the danger of venturing further out into the gulf at a time of year when the weather is at its worst.

NOAA Regional Administrator John K. Bullard rejected the sector-based proposal and all other suggested modifications to the emergency cod measures at the New England Fishery Management Council's January meeting in Portsmouth, N.H., saying the agency had not had enough time to fully study the implications and possible benefits of the sector-based proposal.

That rejection infuriated fishing stakeholders, spurring them to criticize the federal fishery management agency for its refusal to work with fishing groups to find a way to protect the cod and provide enough access and quota to sustain the groundfish fleet.

The Moulton letter that followed described the emergency measures as "a major step backwards" and urged NOAA to "revise and improve" the measures as a means for striking a better balance between the cod conservation goals and the economic needs of the fishing communities dependent on a viable fishery.

"I want to thank the Northeast Seafood Coalition and the Gloucester Fishing Community Preservation Fund and my colleagues from the Massachusetts congressional delegation for their support and perseverance as this truly was a team effort," Moulton said today.

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