"Overfishing" or "overfished" are terms used when, for any reason, the stock level of a species of fish is not at a sustainable level. It doesn't matter what the cause.

[These] terms have legal and scientific meaning. The law requires National Marine Fisheries Service to end overfishing immediately and rebuild the stock in 10 years, for most cases. The process comes up with a fishery management plan to do that, called amendments, with scientific analysis showing how restrictions for catch will reduce fish mortality and how the stock will grow showing the level of growth for each year until completely rebuilt. The process is allowed to make changes to these plans along the way with frameworks adjustments if deemed necessary. NMFS has done three full amendments and dozens of frameworks for the Northeast groundfish (Gulf of Maine cod) in the past 20 years.

There are many things that could go wrong. The obvious one is the stock does not grow as fast as scientists think because of environmental conditions, lack of food, other competing species, incorrect scientific fish growth models, incorrect stock level data, incorrect growth rates or incorrect natural mortality rates.

Other reasons could be incorrect analysis of the fishing restrictions and the benefit to stock level, regulatory discard rate (if there is a trip limit, would there be catches that were in excess of the trip limit and then have to be discarded to be legal) or incorrect analysis of fishing behavior.

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