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The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department is proposing to make the following changes to the rules for the recreational taking of Atlantic cod: reduce the minimum size of cod from 24 inches to 19 inches; reduce the size of fillets from 14 inches to 12 inches; and reduce the daily limit from 10 to 9 cod.
The interim rule proposal will go before New Hampshire's Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules on April 20. The interim rule will be effective for no more than 180 days, during which time the N.H. Fish and Game Department will move forward to implement these measures through regular rules using the standard rulemaking process that includes a public hearing and comment period.
The interim rules are necessary because on April 2, 2012, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced that they are implementing federal rules to reduce the fishing mortality rate for Gulf of Maine cod as required under the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation Act. Federal rules for recreational fishermen will reduce the possession limit from 10 to 9 fish and the minimum size from 24 to 19 inches. The federal rules will go into effect on May 1, 2012, and will apply to fish caught in federal waters (3-200 miles from shore) and anglers on a party/charter vessel with a federal permit.
If New Hampshire's interim rule were not adopted, the minimum size limit for cod would be smaller in federal waters. A fish taken legally in federal waters would need to be released since, in order to come to shore, the vessel must transit New Hampshire waters, where a fish between 19 and 24 inches would be illegal to possess. In addition, a person with 9 cod caught in federal waters could come into state waters to catch one more fish, thus negating the conservation benefit of reducing the cod possession limit from 10 to 9 fish in federal waters.
The complete state interim rulemaking notice, with original and proposed rule language, can be viewed at http://www.wildnh.com/Legislative/Notices_summary.htm (click on "Cod Rules - Interim").
As a final note, while it may seem counterintuitive that reducing the minimum fish size will reduce total catch, the most recent stock assessment is based on a 100% mortality rate for recreational discarded cod. The reduction in minimum fish size is expected to increase overall effort by a minor amount; however, analysis indicates that anglers will likely have higher success in catching legal-sized fish more quickly, so that there will theoretically be fewer discarded fish within trips. For a full explanation, the Federal Register can be viewed at http://www.nero.noaa.gov/nero/hotnews/gomcod/
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