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SPRING GOM HADDOCK CLOSURE LOOMING?

A look at what might be on tap for spring haddock fishing in the Gulf of Maine.
By Toby Lapinski  |  January 29, 2018
SPRING GOM HADDOCK CLOSURE LOOMING?
A couple of happy anglers aboard the Yankee Fleet in 2017 with a nice spring haddock.

While haddock has always been a staple of spring fishermen in the Gulf of Maine (GOM), the for-hire fleet has been forced to lean heavily on them due to the recent closure of cod in Federal waters of the GOM. However, stemming from last week’s New England Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC) meeting, pending rules in 2018 might eliminate haddock altogether as an option for the month of May, a time when few other species are available for ground fishermen yet anglers from all across the Northeast and beyond travel to places like Gloucester to kick start their fishing season.

I was first made aware of this issue over the weekend when I spent some time discussing the upcoming fishing season with Capt. Tom of the Yankee Fleet while at the New England Fishing & Outdoor Expo in Boxboro, MA. While much of our conversation was in a positive light as Capt. Tom filled me in on the great 2017 fishing season that he had, as soon as we began discussing plans for me to join him for some fishing this coming spring it took on a more somber tone. Earlier in the week he had gotten word of the above-noted potential haddock closure in May, and he was understandably concerned.

Before I even left the show, I sent off an email to Fisherman Magazine contributor Capt. Michael Pierdinock for more details. You are likely familiar with Capt. Mike through his monthly “Fishery Management Watch” column and regular feature contributions here in New England. He is the Vice Chair of the Massachusetts Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission and was in attendance at last week’s meeting of the NEFMC Recreational Advisory Panel which is the voice of the recreational and/or for hire community, so I knew he was the guy to seek out to get the inside scoop in this topic.

At the heart of the issue is that it is estimated that the 2018 Annual Catch Limit (ACL) for cod would be exceeded (due to dead discards) if anglers were allowed to target haddock in May. This is determined based upon the 2017 catch data, which is almost universally perceived to be “extremely flawed” at best. There is currently a 1-fish retention limit within Massachusetts state waters for cod, north of the 42-latitude line. NOAA estimated that with the continued cod zero retention limit and release mortality in Federal waters in combination with the Massachusetts 1-cod bag limit , that the cod ACL will be “eaten up” unless there is a May zero cod retention in Massachusetts state waters.

Capt. Mike does not want to see, "Any May closure with the record number of haddock in our waters as well as reports of credible numbers of cod in the areas north of the 42-latitude line that is subject to an ongoing zero cod retention. The assumptions made by NOAA justifying the May haddock closure appears to be based on flawed landing and discard data that needs to past the straight face test as well as be technically justified." While NOAA is saying there are “no cod” to be found in the GOM, anglers who are actually out there fishing day in and day out report much different findings. Reports regularly filter in of boats targeting other groundfish including haddock, redfish, pollock and so-on of large, expansive schools of cod mixed-in with their target species. While the overall population of cod is in no way at historically-high numbers, there is a good population of fish there in which anglers should be allowed to target, even if a minor 1-fish bag limit is approved, for example.

Further, it is documented that the biomass of cod which is seen in the GOM on Stellwagen Bank regularly moves to the south to places like Coxes Ledge and Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island where there is a very generous bag limit of 10-fish per angler. It is rather irresponsible to have such different management of the same biomass of fish, especially when the fish to the south are targeted during their winter spawning period yet those to the north are basically closed.

So while there is in fact a proposal on the table to close down the haddock fishery in the GOM for the month of May this year, it has not yet been finalized so there is still time to act. Your best course of action at this time is to contact your assigned state official with marine fishery management responsibility if you’d like to weigh-in on the subject. The full list of contacts can be found on the NEFMC website at www.nefmc.org/about/council-members.

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