2012 Recreational Codfish Regulations for Gulf of Maine
Northeast Region Bulletin
National Marine Fisheries Service, Northeast Regional Office, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930
For Information Contact:
Sustainable Fisheries Division
(978) 281– 9315
Date Issued: 4/2/2012
GULF OF MAINE RECREATIONAL COD FISHERMEN
AND PARTY OR CHARTER VESSEL OPERATORS
Change to Cod Regulations
Effective Date: May 1, 2012
The following rules apply to recreational anglers on private, party, or charter vessels in the
Federal waters of the Gulf of Maine area beginning on May 1 and will continue
until further notice.
The minimum cod fish size is decreasing from 24 to 19 inches, total length.
The per-angler possession limit is decreasing from 10 to 9 fish.
The fishing season is not changing, and remains April 16-October 31 (closed November
The Whaleback Closure Area is not changing, and remains
closed April 1 through June 30.
For more information on these or other recreational fishing measures, please use the contact
Whaleback Closure Area
Point N. Latitude W. Longitude
1 42° 50.95’ 70° 32.22’
2 42° 47.65’ 70° 35.64’
3 42° 54.91’ 70° 41.88’
4 42° 58.27’ 70° 38.64’
Feds enact 22 percent cut in New England cod catch
Federal officials on Monday enacted severe cuts in how much Gulf of Maine cod fishermen can catch, but avoided, for now, catastrophic cuts that could virtually wipe out New England's fishing industry.
The 22 percent cut from what fishermen were allowed to catch last year takes effect May 1.
The reduction will cause big problems for the industry, which has been reeling since data released last year showed cod in surprisingly dismal shape. But regulators could have cut the catch by as much as 85 percent this year, which would have destroyed the traditional New England fleet from Maine to Massachusetts.
Instead, they took advantage of flexibility in the nation's fishery law, which essentially allows them to end overfishing on the cod in two years instead of one. That may ultimately mean devastating regulations are simply pushed back to 2013, but fishermen are welcoming the delay.
Maine fishermen Proctor Wells said the added time could expose flaws in what fishermen believe is questionable science.
"Is it dodging a bullet, instead of extending your time on death row?" said Wells, who fishes out of Phippsburg. "We'll see."
Deep cuts in the cod catch threaten the entire New England industry because cod and other bottom-dwelling groundfish, such as haddock and flounder, swim among each other. The only way to protect cod is to severely restrict the catch on the numerous fish they mix with.
Just four years ago, scientists said the Gulf of Maine cod was robust and headed to full recovery. But last year, scientists released data indicating cod was recovering so slowly the population couldn't rebuild to federally-mandated targets by 2014.
Regulators considered cutting the Gulf of Maine cod catch from 8,500 metric tons in the 2011 fishing year to just 1,300 metric tons this year. But the cut announced Monday instead reduces the allowed cod catch to 6,700 metric tons this fishing year, putting off the major hit until 2013.
"The point is that fishermen will be able to help shape the future management measures rather than having to take unanticipated, severe cuts this year," said Alan Risenhoover, acting deputy assistant administrator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Fishery managers said they would use the coming months to conduct a new assessment of Gulf of Maine cod, which could conceivably improve the outlook. But Bill Karp, acting director of the federal Northeast Fisheries Science Center, said in a conference call Monday that regulators don't expect the new assessment to make a "profound difference" in how scientists view the cod's health.
Jackie Odell of the Northeast Seafood Coalition, a Gloucester-based industry group, said scientists must be open to new information, even if it contradicts what they think they know.
"This is about closing a fishery down, the economic impacts of this are going to be devastating," Odell said. "So they better have no doubts with the results of this. ... This isn't an exercise just in science. This is about people's lives."
Peter Shelley of the Conservation Law Foundation said regulators are allowing fishermen to catch too much cod this year, and risk prompting a crash in cod stocks that could last decades.
He advocated a larger cut this year, tempered by a smaller cut in 2013, and steps to direct the catch to the fishermen on smaller vessels that depend most heavily on cod. Instead, regulators have proven too timid in an election year to adopt tough, needed measures, he said.
"The most objective interpretation of this is `We hope we're right. We're not going to tell you there's a significant risk. We may be wrong, and we're going to kick this into the next political administration,'" he said.
Cod, a food staple in many cultures for centuries -- it was the source of New England's early wealth, and was the first fish to be traded globally -- is a species of fish in decline. Severe restrictions on commercial cod fishing, implemented by the National Marine Fisheries Service in the late 1990s as part of Federal, state and local efforts to bring the cod back into North American waters, have improved stocks slightly. But the world's cod fisheries are declining drastically. A 2004 report by theWorld Wildlife Fund indicated that the North American catch had dropped 90 percent since the early 1980s and concluded that the world's cod stocks could disappear altogether in a fifteen years. Current efforts to save the cod center on the health of several species of herring in eastern U.S. waters. Cod, among other fish, feed on herring.
Frequently Asked Questions for Gulf of Maine Codfishing
Why are these changes being implemented?
These rules are designed to reduce the Gulf of Maine (GOM) cod catch by recreational
fishermen in fishing year 2012 (May 1, 2012-April 30, 2013). The need to reduce catch is a
result of a lower recreational catch limit for the fishing year. The lower catch limit is needed
because the GOM cod stock is now smaller than previously believed.
How were these rules developed?
Once it was known that catch needed to be reduced, the New England Fishery Management
Council’s Recreational Advisory Panel (RAP) worked closely with us to discuss options.
These measures were endorsed by the RAP which is composed of anglers and party/charter
captains from throughout New England.
How will decreasing fish size reduce landings?
The current GOM assessment used for catch advice assumes that all cod discarded by
recreational fishermen die. Many anglers disagree with this assumption, but it is in effect for
now and is being re-examined by scientists for potential change in future actions. Reducing
the minimum fish size will allow anglers to catch fewer fish to reach their 9 fish possession
limits and the number of discarded fish (now assumed to all die) will be reduced. There is also
a minor effect of smaller fish contributing a lower average weight to the total catch for the
When will the rules change again?
The recent assessment of GOM cod is being revisited over the 2012 summer months and it is
possible that rules may need to be changed in the fall (for the spring 2013 fishery). At this
point, it is too early to say if this will happen and, if so, if new rules will be more strict or not.
I’ve already caught 9 legal cod but catch a bigger one while haddock fishing, can I swap it for
a smaller cod in my cooler?
No, you can’t. This practice of “high-grading,” to keep larger fish seriously undermines the
rules put in place for this year and is not in keeping with ethical fishing practices.
The 9 fish limit is a possession restriction. If there are multiple anglers onboard a vessel, the
total number of cod cannot exceed the sum of all the angler’s possession limits. For example,
if there are 6 anglers, the maximum possession for the vessel is 54 fish, irrespective of if each
angler caught 9 legal-sized fish or one angler caught all 54 cod.
But all the cod I catch while fishing for other species are considered dead, right?
Yes, they are.
The model used to set these rules assumes that anglers will not high-grade. If
they do, it is likely that catch will go up in 2012 and more restrictive measures might be
needed in the spring or next fishing year.
I’ve heard the fishery will be closed next year. Is this true?
If nothing changes, the catch limit is expected to be very low and it is hard to say exactly how
the fishery will look. The science is going to be re-examined this year to provide advice on
what to catch next year. It is too early to say if this will change the potential catch for 2013.