NOAA 99-R145
Contact: Teri Frady


The Commerce Department, acting on two New England Fishery Management Council requests, today temporarily raised the amount of Atlantic cod that commercial fishermen can land from the Gulf of Maine, Commerce Secretary William M. Daley announced. In other actions, Daley announced the department approved a trip limit on Georges Bank cod to begin August 15, and disapproved a short-term closure proposed for Georges Bank.

The Gulf of Maine cod measure, which becomes effective August 3, was in response to a May request for emergency action from the New England Fishery Management Council. The council, acting on reports from fishermen that they were throwing away far more Gulf of Maine cod than they were allowed to keep, asked the Secretary to take unilateral action to increase the daily limit to as much as 700 pounds per day.

"Raising the daily limit to 700 pounds would significantly increase the overall removal of cod from this stock, which is a real conservation problem," said Daley. "Increasing the daily limit to 100 pounds is within the council's original plan, will allow the fleet a more reasonable cod bycatch for the remainder of the year, and will not compromise cod recovery."

Daley also added a note of caution: "While I am pleased that the council has recently started to devise more effective measures for Gulf of Maine stocks, I remain deeply concerned that the current strategy makes neither economic nor conservation sense," he said. "Short-term closures combined with low trip limits clearly do not promote recovery in this important fishery. These should either be used in conjunction with more reliable measures, or discarded as options for the near future."

Today's announcement will allow commercial fishing vessels with federal groundfish permits to land 100 pounds of Atlantic cod from the Gulf of Maine for every 24 hours fished. This revises several existing measures, including the present daily landing limit of 30 pounds, and also limits most vessels to 500 pounds of Gulf of Maine cod per trip.

Daley noted that the trip limit changes announced today will not, by themselves, reduce cod removals, but will allow fishermen to keep more cod unavoidable as bycatch, while continuing to discourage trips seeking cod. "The more effective measures to address overfishing will be the overall trip limit of 500 pounds, and changes to the so-called running clock," he said.

The action is interim, and does not rely on the Secretary's emergency authority, which is reserved for unanticipated events. "While I share the council's frustration about the high cod mortality early in the year," Daley said, "I believe that the best recovery plan will come through the public process, where everyone can contribute, rather than through unilateral action by my office."

In other actions on cod recovery, the Department's National Marine Fisheries Service also disapproved a new 30-day area closure which was proposed by the council as part of the strategy for preventing Georges Bank cod harvests from exceeding 11.7 million pounds, this year's target total allowable catch. The planned closure could not be implemented until September, and would have little effect on cod harvest.

"Short-term closures have proven ineffective in this fishery over the past few years," said Paticia Kurkul, NOAA Fisheries regional administrator in the Northeast. The "best-case" technical analysis of the closure produced meager conservation gains for cod, noted Kurkul. "The benefits of planned short-term closures are usually offset by the fleet simply transferring effort to other areas or other months to make up for it."

The agency did let stand a companion measure, a possession limit of 2,000 pounds per day, and no more than 20,000 pounds per trip that is set to begin August 15 with an option to go lower if landings seem likely to exceed the annual target. Last year, the Georges Bank cod harvest was about 14 million pounds, 3.7 million pounds more than the 1998 target.

The measures for Georges Bank were approved by the New England Fishery Management Council at its April meeting. The commercial groundfishing year begins in May. It was clear that the measure would not be implemented until later in the fishing year than had been anticipated when it was first considered as part of the annual adjustment of the recovery plan in January of 1999. The Georges Bank cod adjustments were tabled during council deliberations in the fall and winter, delayed by extended decision-making required to address the more critical condition of Gulf of Maine stocks.

Groundfish stocks in the Northeast, including cod, are managed under a recovery plan. For more information on these stocks, see