Emergency plan on cod fishing off of New England sought from federal regulators

The National Marine Fisheries Service expects to implement emergency measures in November aimed at stemming cod fish decline in the Gulf of Maine.

The fisheries service is crafting the measures at the request of the New England Fishery Management Council, which asked for them at its meeting in Hyannis, Massachusetts, on Wednesday. The measures will apply to the current fishing year, which ends April 30.

The council requested the measures after it backed away from recommending specific restrictions to the cod fishery that faced opposition from fishermen. The restrictions would have limited fishing by private recreational and commercial groundfishing vessels.

The effort to save cod comes as National Marine Fisheries Service scientists are saying the level of codfish spawning in the Gulf of Maine is at an all-time low. Scientists say the amount of cod spawning in the Gulf of Maine is estimated to be 3 to 4 percent of its target level. That number declined from 13 to 18 percent three years ago. The New England Fishery Management Council then began considering potential emergency measures.

Numerous commercial and recreational fishermen spoke out against restrictions, saying some of the proposals would be too onerous. Hampton, New Hampshire-based fisherman David Goethel said fishermen should play a bigger role in determining the health of the fish stock.

"We need experienced fishermen far more involved in the stock assessment process than they are now," Goethel said.

Some environmental advocates, including Pew Charitable Trusts director of northeast oceans Peter Baker, said regulators need to do more to protect cod habitat in the Gulf.

"What's needed is broader protection for the habitat they need to recover from chronic overfishing," he said.

The Gulf of Maine is one of two key areas where East Coast fishermen search for cod. The other is Georges Bank, also off of New England and facing a distressed cod stock. The species is an important commercial food fish.