PORTLAND, Maine — Fishing regulators are proposing another cutback to the catch limits for Atlantic cod, but some environmentalists say the move isn't significant enough to slow the loss of the species.
Atlantic cod fishing was once one of the biggest marine industries in New England, but the fishery has deteriorated after years of overfishing and environmental changes. Fishermen caught less than 2 million pounds of the fish in 2017, decades after routinely catching more than 100 million pounds annually in the early 1980s. It was the worst year for the fishery in its history.
The cod fishing industry is now subject to strict quotas. The New England Fishery Management Council, a regulatory panel, proposed on Wednesday to cut the allowable commercial catch limit for cod on two key fishing areas off New England from more than 4 million pounds to less than 3 million pounds per year.
“The current stock status is overfished, and overfishing is occurring," said Jamie Cournane, groundfish plan coordinator with the management council. “Over the years, people have discussed the role of the environment and other factors on these stocks."
But Conservation Law Foundation, a Boston-based environmental group, said nothing short of an end to directed fishing of cod will be enough to rebuild the stock.
“It should be an incidental catch fishery. It's abundantly clear that decades of risky decisions have failed this fishery and generations of fishermen," said Erica Fuller, an attorney for the group, at Wednesday's meeting. “Put these stocks on a track to rebuild."
Atlantic cod were once the preferred fish for fish and chips, but other species have filled that void in the years since the species' population dropped and the fishing industry for it fell into decline.
The New England Fishery Management Council's recommendation must be approved by the U.S. Department of Commerce to go into effect.
Fishermen in the Northeast have long avoided cod because of the low quotas. The fish is a “choke species,” meaning fishermen must stop fishing altogether once they reach their quota for it. Most instead target more plentiful species, such as haddock and pollock.
The new catch limits would apply through 2022, though they could be updated in 2021 and 2022, because the U.S. shares some of the catch quota with Canada.