NOAA 2000-114
Contact: Teri Frady


Gloucester, Mass.---NOAA Fisheries has issued a final rule for the upcoming Northeastern groundfishing year, that begins May 1. All stock rebuilding measures submitted by the New England Fishery Management Council in February were approved.

"This rule keeps us on course, building on the progress we have made in recent years to rebuild New England's historic groundfish fishery," said Secretary of Commerce William M. Daley in announcing the rule approval today. "I know that many people are concerned about possible closures in nearshore waters in November and January. If every effort is made to stay within the Gulf of Maine cod harvest limits, the closures will not occur. With the help of New England fishermen, we can do this."

The final rule calls for conditional closures for Gulf of Maine groundfish species in a portion of Massachusetts Bay in January and on Cashes Ledge in November if Gulf of Maine cod landings exceed approximately 1.7 million pounds by July 31. The 1.7 million pounds is approximately half the amount that can be harvested, and if taken in the first 3-months of the fishing year, closures will be triggered because of the risk of overfishing the stocks during the remainder of the season.

Daley also pointed out that since rebuilding efforts have paid off for haddock, this rule sets the trip limit at the highest initial level ever under the rebuilding plan at 3,000 pounds per day/30,000 pounds per trip.

The secretary also said that he was pleased that the plan did not include the very low 30-pound-per-day trip limit for Gulf of Maine cod that was a conservation feature of last year's plan. "The Council is to be congratulated for finding a different, and likely more effective, measure like the conditional closures," he said. "The very low trip limit resulted in numerous reports of cod hauls that were thrown overboard because they could not be legally landed."

With the exception of an additional May-only closure for a portion of Georges Bank and the conditional closures, the measures approved today retain the present trip limits for cod and the same time and area closures as last year in the Gulf of Maine and on Georges Bank.

Limits on Gulf of Maine cod landings remain the same as they are at present (400 pounds per day at sea and 4,000 pounds per trip). NOAA Fisheries Northeast Regional Administrator Patricia Kurkul said today that her office will do everything it can to monitor and report landings in relation to the so-called "trigger point" of 1.7 million pounds. "We can get a general idea of how harvests are progressing by collecting landings at major fish auctions and interviewing skippers to establish where cod were caught. We will make landing updates available on our website and through the fax-on-demand system," she said.

Kurkul also noted, "We still receive much of the dealer and vessel trip report information in written forms that must be converted to electronic forms and audited before we can use it," she said. "While this is sufficient for some uses, the process takes time and precludes the kind of real-time reporting we would all prefer in this plan."

In reviewing the measures submitted, the department disapproved a measure not specifically related to rebuilding, one that would change rules for vessels using larger mesh fishing gear in the groundfish fishery. The present rules trade increases in fishing time (days at sea) in return for using larger mesh size. This recommendation would have modified those requirements. The proposal was disapproved because it was submitted without adequate analysis to determine its conservation benefits. It may be submitted as a later action through the council process.

In today's comments, the Commerce Secretary also noted that NOAA Fisheries' Northeast Office of Cooperative Programs Coordination (responsible for coordinating the distribution of disaster assistance funds provided by Congress), distributed $2.5 million in disaster relief payments this winter to fishermen harmed by the continuing poor condition of Gulf of Maine stocks. "Right now, we are releasing an additional $2 million to vessel owners and crew members affected by this year's inshore closures," said the secretary. Up to 1,000 people may be eligible for this aid.

Northeastern groundfish are managed under a recovery plan that includes limits on the number of days vessels can pursue groundfish, a target total allowable catch for some species, trip limits for cod and haddock, gear specifications, closed areas, minimum fish sizes, no new entry into the fishery, and required reporting of landings.