The 2011 Gulf of Maine cod assessment revealed that the stock had declined, making major reductions in catch limits necessary. The previous evaluation, completed in 2008, had overestimated the cod stock's biomass by a factor of nearly 300 percent. The difference was largely due to a full accounting of fishery removals in the 2011 assessment. The implications are significant for New England's groundfish fishermen, and for the health of Gulf of Maine cod stocks.
Total allowable catch has been set 22 percent lower for the 2012 fishing year, at6,700 metric tons. This was the result of collaboration between managers, fishermen, and scientists to prevent a much larger cut. The new limit this season will not enable rebuilding of the stock at the rate that had previously been mandated.
Changes in cod distribution and fishing patterns have suggested a contraction of the Gulf of Maine cod population into the western area. However, new research conducted by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI), the University of New Hampshire, and others suggests distinct cod sub-stocks in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank. Data may indicate local depletion of central and/or eastern Gulf of Maine sub-stock(s), rather than a contraction to the western area, meaning that rebuilding efforts may not be effective.
"These new theories about cod sub-stocks warrant further study," said John Annala, Chief Scientific Officer at GMRI. "This may be a critical component in the effort to accurately assess cod biomass and the impact of fishing. It's important to move forward quickly with additional research."
GMRI is planning for a comprehensive, collaborative study of Gulf of Maine cod stocks to inform future research planning decisions. To kick off the process, we will host a three-day workshop in Portsmouth on June 12-14, 2012, with presentations and discussions among researchers, fishermen, and managers.
In addition, NOAA is developing new methodology to incorporate new marine recreational fishing data into the cod stock assessment. TheNew England Fishery Management Council and the Northeast Fisheries Science Center are conducting a deeper examination of the sub-stock theories, which is likely to be incorporated into the 2014 stock assessment.
This spotlight was adapted from the first edition of Waypoints, GMRI's new quarterly fishing industry newsletter. Read the full article here.