Cod rules could hamstring lobstermen



A scientist holds a large cod caught during a National Marine Fisheries Service trawl survey in the Gulf of Maine. Regulators are debating whether cod bycatch in lobster gear has a significant effect on cod stocks. PHOTO COURTESY OF NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION

A scientist holds a large cod caught during a National Marine Fisheries Service trawl survey in the Gulf of Maine. Regulators are debating whether cod bycatch in lobster gear has a significant effect on cod stocks.
PHOTO COURTESY OF NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION

NEWPORT, R.I. — A proposal to restrict lobster fishing in certain designated spawning areas for cod is on the agenda at the New England Fishery Management Council meeting here this week.

A groundfish subcommittee voted last week to recommend that, “due to the high bycatch of cod in the lobster fishery and potential disruption of spawning behavior,” Gulf of Maine cod spawning closures “include a restriction on fishing with or using lobster pot gear.”

At issue is the number of cod being caught in lobster traps and whether they survive the trip to the surface.

Last week, the Portland Press Herald published numbers from the Department of Marine Resources estimating 177,247 individual cod were taken in lobster traps in 2008. “That was an estimate based on raw data provided by DMR staff to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC),” DMR Commissioner Pat Keliher said in a statement Monday. “However, the analysis and extrapolation were not done by DMR.”

“In fact, DMR believes this work overestimates the actual bycatch of cod in the Maine lobster fishery. The data, which was from 2008, was a very rough estimate, and does not fully account for the variability of bycatch in the lobster fishery in different parts of the coast, in different depths and in different seasons. That variability is significant. This rudimentary analysis should not be the basis for management decisions.

“Additional dealer and harvester data have been obtained by DMR since 2008, which along with refinements in our sea sampling data, allow a more rigorous analytical approach to be conducted than what was done for the MSC assessment.”

A team of fisheries scientists at the University of Maine is also studying survival rates of cod and cusk caught in lobster traps. They plan to interview fishermen about what they do with the cod they catch.

“We don’t see (cod) very often around here,” Bar Harbor lobstermen Jon Carter said. “And when we do, they’re very small, young ones in relatively shallow water.” Some fish brought up from deeper water are less likely to survive the trip due to rapid pressure changes in the swim bladder.

“The Department will strongly urge the New England Fishery Management Council to support additional work to better understand the interactions between the lobster and groundfish industries before taking any management actions,” Keliher said, “and recommend that additional analysis be completed by the New England Fishery Management Council in cooperation with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Council Lobster Technical Committee.

“In addition, the DMR will request that the New England Fishery Management Council not take any future management action affecting the lobster fishery without consulting the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and its Lobster Management Board.”

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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