By Associated Press - Wednesday, November 19, 2014

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - Federal regulators voted Wednesday to close several areas to commercial cod fishing in the Gulf of Maine as they seek to rebuild the depleted fishery.

The closures approved by the New England Fishery Management Council are designed to aid growth of the population of the fish, whose spawning level is at an all-time low, a spokeswoman said. Recreational fishing still will be allowed, but only catch-and-release, the spokeswoman said.

The council also rejected a recommendation to ban lobster gear from closed areas. Many lobstermen adamantly opposed that idea, which Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association President Bernie Feeney said would “turn fishermen against fishermen.” Some cod fishermen had said it wasn’t fair for lobstermen to set traps that also accidentally catch cod.

The council voted on the new restrictions at a meeting in Newport, Rhode Island. The votes came a day after the council enacted a quota cut that reduces total allowable cod catch for the 2015 fishing year from 1,550 metric tons to 386. That season begins on May 1, 2015. Emergency restrictions enacted last week, which also include catch limits and closures in parts of the gulf, are in effect during the interim period.

Regulators have said Gulf of Maine cod spawning sits at about 3 to 4 percent of its target level. Massachusetts’ catches fell from 6,810 metric tons in 2011 to 1,881 in 2013, federal data show. Maine’s catch fell from more than 369 metric tons in 2011 to less than 130 metric tons last year, state data show.

The Gulf of Maine is one of two key places where New England fishermen fish for cod.

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