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Fishermen Question Cod-Fishing Ban Data

On the heels of Monday’s abrupt emergency shutdown of cod fishing in inshore waters off Massachusetts and New Hampshire until May 1, the New England Fishery Management Council is now weighing another round of steep cuts in the allowed catch of Gulf of Maine groundfish for the rest of the year after that.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service imposed the sudden shutdown of vast areas of the gulf after data showed cod stocks in their worst shape in at least 40 years.

But Thursday, many fishermen were trying to persuade the local council: The government data are not true.

"I am certain that the science is wrong by a lot on this one," said Vito Giacalone, a Gloucester, Massachusetts, fisherman and leader of the Northeast Seafood Coalition and Gloucester Fishing Community Preservation Fund. "They're finding them in a lot of areas. They're not just catching them in one concentrated area as they thought. Big catches, like 3,000, 4,000 pounds, one-hour tows, little 40-foot boats. Flounder, cod, as good catch rates as we've ever seen."

David Goethel, captain of the Ellen Diane out of Hampton, New Hampshire, agreed.

"I think there are a lot more cod than they are finding," Goethel said. "I think we're in the position we're in basically because one boat couldn't catch any cod -- and that boat happens to belong to the U.S. government."

But John K. Bullard, northeast regional chief for the marine fisheries service and a former mayor of New Bedford, said the fish count data have been rigorously gathered and evaluated by disinterested scientists. "It’s the best available science, and no one ever wants to hear science that causes them to lose money," Bullard said.

"Fishermen are very smart," Bullard said, and reports from fishermen like Giacalone and Goethel show how they are finding the last remaining bunches of nearly-extinct cod essentially huddling together in specific locations, the last stage before they vanish entirely.

"They see these final concentrations of cod, and our purpose is to protect this final concentration of cod -- so that we don't lose them" permanently, Bullard said.

The fishery management council was meeting in Revere, Massachusetts, Wednesday and Thursday to develop recommendations for rolling shutdowns of different areas of the Gulf of Maine after May 1 in hopes of saving the cod and other at-risk groundfish while allowing fishermen to try to make money fishing for more abundant fish like haddock, hake, Pollock, and others. The shutdown plan could be voted on by the full council next week in Newport, Rhode Island, but the decision could also be pushed off to a January meeting.

With videographer Marc Jackson 

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