Cod Management Handed to Commerce Dept.

In late December, the New England Fishery Management Council unexpectedly voted 9-8 to halt months of progress on a package of commercial and recreational cod fishing restrictions for 2002. The plan, known as Framework Adjustment #36, would have reduced mortality on the Gulf of Maine cod stock by as much as 65%, a reduction scientists say is needed despite the fact that the cod stock appears to be rebounding. Commercial fishermen in Maine, who felt that the new plan would put them out of business, initiated the action.

The result is that cod management has now been turned over to the Secretary of Commerce (via the National Marine Fisheries Service), which must come up with a plan to manage the stock in order to meet the conservation goals of the Sustainable Fisheries Act. Some observers feel that a secretarial plan will end up being just as onerous as the Council's proposed measures, yet others believe that political pressure can be applied at the secretarial level to dilute or postpone further restrictions. Under the Council's plan, recreational fishermen were facing area closures, smaller bag limits, and a higher minimum size for cod, and it is likely that one or more of these measures will be contained in the secretarial version.