NOAA Fisheries on Tuesday formally issued the sector exemption that will remove elements of the emergency cod measures in the Gulf of Maine for the remainder of the current fishing season.
The exemption, sought by industry stakeholders as a means for accessing healthier and more plentiful stocks, will remove the 200-pound trip limit for cod bycatch and keep the broad stock areas open.
In return, some fishing sectors have agreed to collectively surrender 30 metric tons of cod allocation as an offsetting cod conservation.
The exemption will not allow any targeted fishing for cod in the Gulf of Maine for the remainder of this fishing season, nor will it grant the March area openings sought by the industry in return for another 30 metric tons of cod allocation.
"We're pleased they reconsidered some of the measures and worked with us on the industry proposal," said Vito Giacalone, the executive director of the Gloucester Fishing Community Preservation Fund and a chief architect of the compromise proposal.
The question now is what happens when the new fishing season dawns on May 1.
Will NOAA Fisheries exercise its statutory right to extend the emergency cod measures for another 180 days, thereby eliminating targeted cod fishing in the Gulf of Maine for roughly the first half of the 2015 season?
Or will the agency depend on the Northeast Multispecies Fisheries fishery management plan developed by the New England Fishery Management Council, known as Framework 53, to provide the protections NOAA believes are so essential to rebuilding the endangered cod stock?
On Wednesday, a NOAA spokeswoman said the agency has not decided whether to extend the emergency measures and does expect to make that decision until it completes the review of Framework 53, which the council submitted roughly a week ago.
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