Numbers indicate cod stocks dropping despite fishing restrictions
BOSTON –The adult cod population off Massachusetts has dropped by more than 20 percent since 2001, despite tough new restrictions on fishing passed during that time, according to preliminary numbers presented this week by federal regulators.
The numbers of cod found near Georges Bank, off the southern New England coast, fell nearly 23 percent between 2001 and 2004, according to figures given this week in a draft paper at the Groundfish Assessment Review Meeting at Woods Hole. Cod stocks in the Gulf of Maine dropped 21 percent during that time.
Environmentalists said the falling numbers of cod found near Georges Bank show additional restrictions are needed to protect vulnerable cod nursery grounds there.
But a fishing industry advocate said several years of restrictions should have raised the population, and a decline indicates that natural or climactic factors beyond the control of federal regulators could be behind the cod’s continuing struggles.
“With everything we’ve been doing, it should have gone the other way,” said Jim Kendall, a former New Bedford scalloper and fishing industry consultant. “What we need to do is look deeper and find out what the true cause of the decline is.”
The numbers were discussed Monday and Tuesday as regulators update population estimates of the stocks they monitor and review various assumptions and projections.
Teri Frady, a spokeswoman for the federal NOAA Fisheries agency, declined comment on the preliminary figures. The numbers are not final and conclusions drawn from the data by environmentalists were premature, she said.
“They do have the advantage because when I tell you what an assessment says, I have to be right,” Frady said. “I’m not telling you that it’s not right, but it’s not thoroughly vetted yet.”
Frady said a final report should be ready in about two weeks.
Numbers in a draft paper presented at the meeting indicate that in 2004, there were an estimated 22,564 metric tons of Georges Bank cod old enough to spawn, compared with 29,170 metric tons in 2001, a 22.6 percent drop.
The 2004 numbers are well above the record low estimate of 17,375 metric tons in 1995.
Meanwhile, between 2002 and 2004, the commercial catch of Georges Bank cod dropped from 10,274 metric tons to a record low 4,583 metric tons in 2004.
For Gulf of Maine cod, an estimated 23,800 metric tons in 2001 declined to 18,800 metric tons in 2004, a 21 percent drop. Gulf of Maine cod stocks fell as low as 10,600 metric tons in 1997 and 1998.
The apparent drop in population came as fishing rules steadily tightened, ending with the May 2004 enactment of a new slate of restrictions known as Amendment 13. Among the measures was a 24 percent cut in already reduced fishing days, to about 53 annually.
Chris Zeman of Oceana said the cod’s continued problems are “the expected result” because Amendment 13 didn’t adequately limit fishing. He said more must be done to prevent bycatch — when fishermen catch fish they weren’t targeting — and restrict the scallopers that dredge and harm cod nursery grounds in western Georges Bank.
“If you’re not protecting adults and you’re not adequately protecting juvenile habitats, you’re seeing the results,” he said. “You don’t have enough juveniles to replace the adults.”
By Jay Lindsay, Associated Press Writer