Editor’s Log: Federal Cod Regs - The Fisherman

Editor’s Log: Federal Cod Regs

A Montauk charter captain and friend of mine called back in July back regarding some questions about changes to Atlantic cod regulations that would affect the area that he fishes. I was unaware of this change as I didn’t receive any sort of press release from any major agencies. And I was sure to check again in my inbox.

The next week I had more concerned captains reach out to me regarding a change to cod. For those of you who don’t know, the summer bottom fishing off of Montauk includes catches of cod in decent numbers, so while this might not pertain to an individual fishing the local reefs during the summer, it certainly is of concern to those fishing the Montauk grounds where cod are more common.

After checking the local New York Department of Environmental Conservation site for marine regulations, I saw that Atlantic cod regs had remained unchanged from what I knew them to be. The fish had a 21-inch size limit, 10 fish bag limit and the season was open all year. Nothing seemed to change on the New York State end but then I had to check the federal side of things being that the Atlantic cod is actually a federally-managed species.

According to the NOAA website, and after some further researching, I found a bulletin deep in the Google search titled Reminder: Georges Bank Cod Recreational Measures in Southern New England and the Mid-Atlantic.

The bulletin states these measures apply to: 

  • Private recreational fishing vessels in federal waters (3-200 miles from shore)
  • Federal charter/party permitted vessels in all waters
  • Federal Northeast multispecies permitted vessels fishing under the charter/party or recreational regulations (i.e., not commercial fishing) in all waters

Georges Bank cod are those cod caught outside the Gulf of Maine regulated mesh area (RMA), and therefore include cod caught in the Georges Bank RMA, Southern New England RMA, and Mid-Atlantic RMA. This includes waters offshore of Massachusetts (south of Cape Cod), Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey.

The last portion of the bulletin mentions that some state regulations will differ from federal and in that case the most restrictive regulations will apply.

The federal regulation you might ask? It’s a slot limit from 22 to 28 inches with a five fish bag limit and an open season from August 1 to April 30. Technically as the bulletin mentions, these regulations affect those fishing in waters 3 to 200 miles offshore. The states set the regs for 0 to 3 miles. The problem I’m seeing here is that most cod are typically caught further than 3 miles off the beach meaning that 99 percent of the time, the federal regulations are the ones that will apply.

State regs are not on the same page as the federal ones which is allowed but very confusing to the average fisherman with his own boat. And I’ll be honest too; I also refer to my state site for regulations 99 percent of the time. So what happens when the angler who goes every once in a while looks to his state site for regulations and sees that cod regulations are still the same? Without doing the extended research to uncover a basically hidden bulletin that NOAA released in the summer they will never know this change was made for federal waters.

The bottom line is, state and federal agencies should be on the same page for this one to avoid angler confusion when fishing for Atlantic cod. I did reach out to the state regarding this and they let me know they will be making changes in the future to further protect the fish.

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