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Federal officials on Monday enacted a severe but not catastrophic cut in the Gulf of Maine cod catch, a move that temporarily suspends the threat of collapse of the New England cod fishing industry.
The 22 percent cut from what fishermen were allowed to catch last year takes effect May 1.
The reduction will cause major problems for the industry, but fishermen had predicted that an 85 percent reduction possible after new data indicated the cod was in worse condition than previously thought would have obliterated the traditional New England fleet.
The measure filed Monday in the federal register buys time for regulators and fishermen to find some way to avoid devastating cuts, which appear certain in 2013.
Federal officials said they will do a new assessment of the health of the cod, including a more accurate way to count how much cod recreational fishermen are catching.
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 findings on the strength of the cod population.
Fishermen are deeply skeptical of the findings, saying they contradict what they see at sea and even recent government science. They point to a 2008 study that indicated that Gulf of Maine cod were robust and headed for full recovery.
But last year, scientists released data that indicated the fish were recovering so slowly that even if fishermen did not catch a single cod through 2014, the cod population wouldn't rebuild to federally-mandated targets by then.
Jackie Odell of the Northeast Seafood Coalition, a Gloucester-based industry group, said Monday that everyone must commit to learning the true status of the stock.
"It's nothing personal, but either the new assessment is dead wrong or the old assessment was dead wrong," Odell said. "There are a number of crucial scientific questions that must be answered."
The cut announced Monday reduces the allowed cod catch from 8,500 metric tons in the 2011 fishing year to 6,700 metric tons this fishing year, which starts May 1.
Regulators had been considering a cut to a scant 1,300 metric tons, or even a fishery shutdown, in order to comply with federal fishery laws. Instead, they chose an option that essentially allows them to end overfishing on the cod in two years instead of one.
This program aired on April 2, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.
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