Hard To Believe

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog about the New England Fishery Management Council’s (NEFMC) effort to craft Amendment 2 to the Omnibus Essential Fish Habitat plan (OEFHA2). The general thrust was that the Council should not open up areas that have been closed to bottom tending mobile gear for the last 20 years just to allow access to fish during difficult times for the fishing industry.

In fact, I threw out the concept that maybe they should consider closing some of the existing areas to ALL gear capable of catching groundfish. Yes, that means hook and line and would impact some recreational users. Why would I do that? Because I felt that extraordinary efforts were needed to protect the remaining population of Gulf of Maine cod. This piece seemed to have gained a lot of traction according to the feedback that I received. Some of it was complimentary and some not so much! My main effort was to get folks to think about and act on measures to save cod. At the time I wrote the blog the stock was determined to be at between 13 and 18-percent of what a healthy population should be. (I admit to erring to the high side of that estimate in my previous blog.) In either case that was not a pretty picture and by itself should have generated a conservative approach by fishery managers, not an expansion of effort.

We are way too close to zero, so there can be no more mistakes

Then last week, I received a note from Tom Nies, Executive Director of the NEFMC, which said, “Your recent article on habitat was prescient, unfortunately.” I could not have agreed more with the “unfortunately” comment. I would have been happy to have been proven wrong. Attached to the e-mail was a copy of the letter that the NEFMC received from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC). It stated the outcome of a recent assessment of Gulf of Maine cod, “In conducting the update, it became apparent that virtually all indicators of Gulf of Maine cod stock condition have deteriorated since 2012 when the last assessment was conducted, and prospects for improvement as well as rebuilding are dimming:

  • Spawning biomass levels are estimated to be at 3 to 4-percent of the biomass target for maximum sustainable yield.
  • Fishery resource survey indices and spawning stock biomass are at all-time lows.”

Can you spell “real disaster”? A few years back, there were predictions that the Gulf of Maine cod stock would end up just like the Canadian Maritimes inshore cod stocks, virtually gone. They stopped all commercial harvest 25 or more years ago and the stocks have yet to rebound. I never believed that would happen here. How wrong can I be?

There are some who will doubt the science, which most understand to not be perfect. It is all that we have and while not perfect, it has shown this downward trend for a while. However, if there is any, and I mean any, hope left, avoiding extinction will require drastic measures. Instead of opening up closed areas, IMO there should be a consideration of closing more and when I say closing, I mean to ALL gear capable of catching groundfish. Yes, that includes so-called mid-water trawl gear.

This NEFSC stock assessment report basically indicates that we have lost the iconic cod from the waters that were once the prolific envy of the world. We are way too close to zero, so there can be no more mistakes.


"Rip" Cunningham, who owned, published and edited Salt Water Sportsman for 32 years, is also an accomplished writer and photographer. Cunningham has received several awards from the Outdoor Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in such magazines as Field and Stream, Rod and Reel, Gray's Sporting Journal, Australian Boating and the Boston Globe Magazine. Among his many accomplishments, Rip was recognized as the Conservationist of the Year from both the International Game Fish Association, the Coastal Conservation Association of Massachusetts, The Billfish Foundation and Federation of Fly Fishers. "I've earned a living from fishing, and I believe strongly that people with an interest in a given area should give something back,” he says. “It's rewarding every single day." Cunningham received his MBA from Babson College in Wellesley, MA and his BA from Rollins College in Winter Park, FL. He has two grown children and four grand children and lives with his wife and hunting dogs in Dover, MA and Yarmouth, ME. When he's not fishing or working through the items on his wife's "honey-do" list, Cunningham does some hunting and skiing.

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