The New England Fishery Management Council votes this week on recommendations by the council's Habitat Committee to lift restrictions in three closed areas. NOAA Fisheries Regional Administrator John Bullard and at least one environmental group are arguing against it because NOAA scientists are saying it would harm important spawning areas for species like cod, haddock and yellowtail flounder.

If one balances what has been gained (and what has been gained? "Crisis" levels for Gulf of Maine cod?) in the years spent trying to rebuild these stocks against what has been lost in the fishing community because of it, a compelling argument can be made that continuing these restrictions does more harm than allowing fishermen back in. That would be in conflict with at least one of the goals of Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

The harm done to the fishing community under the current management regime is unambiguous: consolidation of the groundfishing fleet through the elimination of the majority of small boats, and preventing those still fishing from harvesting two-thirds of the total allowable catch because of choke species.

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