BOSTON (AP) – The stock of Georges Bank cod is showing decline for the first time in seven years, according to preliminary estimates by federal scientists.

The estimates indicate that Georges Bank cod stocks have declined from 29,170 metric tons in 2001 to 26,500 in 2002 despite the closure of large areas to fishermen and tight catch limits.

It’s the first time since 1995 regulators have seen a decline in cod stocks in Georges Bank, located off the coast of southern New England.

The cod stock is currently at about one-eighth of the target regulators hope to rebuild to, though fishermen say the goal is far too high.

“The bottom line is (Georges Bank) is still being overfished,” Steve Murawski, a scientist with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The New England Fishery Management Council is in the process of devising tight new regulations to stop overfishing on several New England groundfish stocks, including cod, after a federal court ruled the government wasn’t doing enough to protect fish. Fishermen say the industry will collapse if the new rules are too restrictive.

The new regulations are scheduled to go into effect in May 2004. Currently, about 30 percent of Georges Bank is off limits to fisherman who catch groundfish and fishermen have a 2,000 pound per day catch limit.

Chatham fisherman John Pappalardo, a member of the fishery council, said the council is considering cutting the daily trip limit on Georges Bank to 500 pounds.

The struggles of cod stocks is a contrast to other Georges Bank groundfish, such as haddock and yellowtail flounder, which have seen substantial gains since 1995. Scientists say the disparity is partly explained because cod had reached such a low population that there weren’t enough sexually mature fish to fuel a rebound.

AP-ES-04-22-03 0815EDT

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