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Raised gillnets could help fishermen avoid cod


The details were news, but the impact had been expected for months now.  On Nov. 10, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Regional Administrator John Bullard announced in-season actions to reduce fishing pressure on Gulf of Maine cod that include time and area closures and trip limits that will be effective from now until at least early May.

Moving into the 2015 fishing year, the New England Fishery Management Council is scheduled to replace the interim actions with a longer-term set of measures to effectively reduce the allowable Gulf of Maine cod catch from 1,550 metric tons (mt) to 386 mt.

If there were cod around, and I didn’t have much cod quota, I’d definitely use the raised gillnet because I could still catch pollock.  —Tom Lyons

At the very same time, stocks in good shape like pollock, haddock, and redfish will be available for fishermen to catch.  For most fishermen, that means Atlantic cod will become a “choke” species.

The next fishing year will be an unprecedented test of sector management as the rules of the game now require fishermen to avoid cod, the historical keystone of their catch, while successfully targeting healthy stocks.

At the same time that fishermen are feeling the shock of the moment, they are facing their future, searching for a plan that will keep them on the water, fishing, in 2015.

Of course, there are things they can’t control, like the lease price for cod next year, which could be higher or lower than ever depending on who you talk to, and the when, where, and how much that they can catch.

But are there any new “tools” in the “toolbox” that fishermen might be able to use next year?

One option for gillnetters may be a raised gillnet that allows fish like cod to escape capture beneath the standard netting (see drawing).  Fishermen in New Hampshire and Maine have been testing the raised gillnets since 2011 through the GEARNET groundfish conservation gear demonstration and research network funded through the NMFS Northeast Cooperative Research Program and also supported by The Nature Conservancy Marine Program.

The drawing shows the raised gillnet modification, which allows fish like cod to escape capture beneath the standard 6.5" mesh. The 4’ raised gillnet seemed to hit the sweet spot for a gillnet modification whose time may have arrived. (UNH/Sea Grant graphic)

The drawing shows the raised gillnet modification, which allows fish like cod to escape capture beneath the standard 6.5″ mesh.
The 4’ raised gillnet seemed to hit the sweet spot for a gillnet modification whose time may have arrived.
(UNH/Sea Grant graphic)

“If there were cod around, and I didn’t have much cod quota, I’d definitely use the raised gillnet because I could still catch pollock,” said Capt. Tom Lyons of the F/V Marion J out of Seabrook, NH.

Lyons, along with three other New Hampshire fishermen, first experimented with gillnets raised 2′, 4′, and 6′ off the seabed in 2011 and 2012.

They found that the 2′ raised gillnet caught too much cod and the 6′ missed too many fish altogether.  But the 4′ raised gillnet seemed to hit the sweet spot for a gillnet modification whose time may have arrived.

In 2013, the fishermen compared the 4′ raised gillnets with standard sets and found a significant reduction in cod with no impact on pollock catch and a somewhat reduced dogfish catch.

At the time, Jason Driscoll of the F/V Sweet Misery out of Rye commented, “Right now, there just aren’t enough cod out there to really make the net worth using.  But if we had a situation like we had a few years ago when there was a lot of cod, then the raised net would be ideal.”

Both Driscoll and Lyons more recently said they would use the 4′ raised gillnet in 2015, though Lyons cautioned that further testing was necessary before they could
really trust the new gear.

“We never really got a chance to use the nets when we were in a lot of cod,” he explained.  “So, we’d really like to see them work under those conditions.”

 

Different story in ME

Fishermen in Maine, however, were less enthusiastic about raised gillnets.  In Port Clyde, gillnetters tried slightly different sets, focusing eventually on a 2.5′ raised gillnet.

However, they found that the reduced cod catch came with a similar reduction in silver hake and pollock catch and lost interest because fishing with the raised gillnet did not seem economical at the time.

The disparity in results between New Hampshire and Maine could be because of different approaches to hanging the gillnets or differences in fish behavior or gear interactions with bottom-type.

But with the coming changes for groundfishing in 2015, Maine fishermen and others in the region may be interested in looking further into the raised gillnets.

In the meantime, fishermen are continuing to think about what they can control and how they can continue to fish next year.

“I really want to start working on a cage system that can take the cod that we catch back down to the bottom and release them before they die,” Driscoll said.

“I know barotrauma is a problem that causes release mortality and other fisheries are using this type of release system to improve things,” he continued.  “I really think that something like that could help our fishery and that we could figure out how to work with something like that.”

The need to try innovative gears and fishing approaches that reduce impacts on struggling stocks is more important than ever, and the ideas will keep coming.  Collaborative research that combines expertise from scientists and fishermen remains an essential ingredient to getting these ideas tested on the water.

Erik Chapman

 

Erik Chapman is the fisheries extension specialist for the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Cooperative Extension/New Hampshire Sea Grant College Program.  

For more information on the raised gillnet study and how the raised gillnets were constructed, call Chapman at (603) 862-1935 or e-mail him at <erik.chapman@unh.edu>.

To tune into a discussion about other gears that might be useful for avoiding cod, visit the GEARNET blog at <gearnet.org>, a site collaboratively maintained by the Northeast Cooperative Research Program, Gulf of Maine Research Institute, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, and UNH Cooperative Extension/New Hampshire Sea Grant. 


 

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