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Q&As GOM Cod and Haddock 2014 Interim and Emergency Actions

Gloucester harbor.  Commercial dragger.  Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries

Questions and Answers about Interim Management Measures for Gulf of Maine Cod and Emergency Management Measures for Gulf of Maine Haddock Stocks


Q.        How effective do you expect these measures will be at reducing fishing mortality (overfishing) on cod?

A.         It is difficult to predict exactly how the fishing industry will respond to the closure areas – that is how much fishing activity will occur outside closed areas, whether fishing effort will be concentrated in any of these open areas and how much cod will be caught directly and as bycatch. We are also pretty far into the fishing year and more than half of the quota for the year has already been caught.  However, if fishing behavior is consistent with the past five fishing years, we expect this combination of management measures will reduce fishing pressure on the stock for the remainder of the fishing year.  This is an important first step if we are to stop overfishing and help the fish stock to rebuild.  By working closely with the New England Fishery Management Council on fishery management measures for 2015, we hope to further the work initiated today through these actions.


Q.        What are the economic costs of the measures you intend to implement for cod on the groundfish industry?

A.         Gross revenues from groundfish are predicted to be $64.3 million for fishing year 2014.  It is estimated that these measures will reduce revenues by up to $1.6 million relative to if no action were taken by NOAA Fisheries for the remainder of the year.  This comparison includes potential revenue increases from the concurrent increase in the haddock catch limit.


Q.        Who will be affected by the cod closures?

A.         Seasonal Interim Closure Areas are closed to vessels using certain commercial and recreational gear capable of catching cod.


Q.        What are the economic benefits of the quota increase for the haddock stock?  How will this be tempered by the cod protection measures?

A.         We expect the economic benefits of this action to be modest, especially in light of the efforts being undertaken to reduce cod fishing mortality.  Some fishermen may benefit from the haddock quota increase on an individual basis.  For the industry as a whole, the increase in revenue due to the haddock increase will help to slightly reduce the overall economic impacts of the needed cod protection measures.  However, we hope that our efforts to move quickly to implement this quota increase demonstrates how committed  we are to exploring all viable options for providing  fishermen access to abundant fish stocks, like haddock, just as we are committed to protecting the declining cod resource.


Q.        How long will these interim measures be in place?  Will the public have an opportunity to comment on them?

A.         Under federal fisheries law, Secretarial actions that implement interim emergency management measures are put in place for six months. Any public input received on these interim measures during this time will be considered should we have to extend the action for a full year.  We would only extend these interim management measures if the council is not able to put in place its management measures or develops insufficient measures to satisfy requirements under the law before the interim measures expire.


Q.        Is it a violation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act if NOAA Fisheries does not immediately end overfishing?

A.         It is not possible to immediately end overfishing for fishing year 2014. By the time, we received the updated assessment, total catch had already exceeded the overfishing limit for the year.  Only a complete closure of the Gulf of Maine to all types of fishing would ensure no additional fishing mortality would occur for the remainder of the fishing year. This would have very serious consequences for the commercial fishery, which we also have to consider when weighing management options. For Gulf of Maine cod to recover and rebuild according to schedule, overfishing must be controlled. The interim measures are an important step in that direction and, when paired with the expected catch limit reductions in the action being developed by the council, it may still be possible to rebuild the stock. 


Q.        How did you identify the closure areas?

A.         We based our options on those already considered by the council. However, we expanded the times/areas to cover months where spawning was not well protected or where catch would not be reduced because there were insufficient, if any, closures.

These areas cover the majority of locations where cod were caught in high proportions during the 2010-2014 fishing years, and are still likely concentrated. We also used documented information of cod spawning times and locations to help define other areas in need of protection.

Q.        How do you respond to complaints that you are disproportionally affecting fishermen who have saved their cod quota to fish and optimize their profits or are unable to get offshore to fish for cod?

A.         Since many of the measures being implemented were already discussed publicly during several council meetings, we expect that many fishermen who had Gulf of Maine cod quota may likely have already fished it.  However, if any fishermen still have available cod quota, they will be able to fish for cod in some inshore areas, with restrictions (a trip limit and area reporting requirements) to reduce the impacts on overall cod stock health.

Q.        Why are you doing so much to save just one species?

A.         Under Federal law, we are required to end overfishing and rebuild overfished stocks for all federally managed species, without exception. The Gulf of Maine cod stock is in very poor condition and not recovering as expected, requiring more stringent management actions to improve its chances for recovery, and the ability to support viable commercial and recreational fisheries and a healthy marine ecosystem. 

Q.        Fishermen have said they are seeing a lot of cod in the inshore waters, doesn’t this conflict with your science?

A.         No.  Fishermen may be encountering cod in high numbers in specific areas where these fish aggregate because habitat conditions and and food availability are optimal. Cod are not abundant elsewhere in their historic range, where we would expect to find fish if population numbers were high or significantly increasing.  Catch and landings data also indicate that most Gulf of Maine cod landings are coming from just a few areas.

Q.        How do you respond to the fishermen who say the cod downturn is just cyclical?

A.         There is certainly a cyclical nature to recruitment—the number of young fish living into their first year; however, what we are now seeing is a trend of declining recruitment. With no signs of incoming recruitment, the prospects for growing this stock are poor. While cod distributions may change from year to year, the state and federal resource surveys offer comprehensive coverage of the Gulf of Maine stock area. These survey indices indicate that the abundance of the resource is at an all-time low. Additionally, both the surveys and commercial and recreational fisheries catch data show truncation of the population age structure, indicating that the resource is undergoing high total mortality (death due to fishing and other factors).

Q.        How big a role is climate change and other environmental factors playing on cod stock recovery?

A.         We can’t yet make a direct, quantifiable correlation between cod recovery success and a specific climate factor like water temperature, but we know that climate can affect the distribution of fish species as well as when, where, and what kind of prey are available, and the likelihood of successful recruitment—all factors that could influence cod recovery.