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Baker wants broader input on cod regulations

Questioning the federal estimates used to essentially ban commercial cod fishing in the Gulf of Maine, Governor-elect Charlie Baker said it is time for other scientists to have a say.

Baker and Senate minority leader Bruce Tarr, who represents Gloucester, said Massachusetts must do its own analysis of what is happening with the cod population in the waters off its shores instead of relying solely on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“My continued concern about this is there’s only one source of truth,” Baker said Tuesday. “And it’s NOAA. There is no other source of truth.”

The state must tap into such brain trusts as the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, MIT, and marine fisheries on Cape Cod, Baker said.

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“And if it turns out that NOAA’s right, then NOAA’s right,” he said.

NOAA said this week that the new restrictions, which expand the areas where commercial cod fishing is already banned, are necessary to halt dramatic declines in the region’s iconic species.

Baker and Tarr had an “intense” discussion on Monday about how the federal ban will affect one of the state’s oldest industries and plan to continue the conversation, both men said.

“We need a multifaceted approach here,” Tarr said Tuesday. “We need to understand the science better. We need to have a much better grasp of what’s going on, but right now we’re facing an immediate crisis.”

Tarr said the first step is exploring “every possibility of financial assistance for folks who aren’t going to be able to catch fish.”

The second, he said, is to “explore every option for regulatory flexibility.”

The new rules, which take effect this week and last six months, reduce the amount of cod that fishermen are accidentally allowed to catch to 200 pounds per boat, tighten reporting requirements, and reduce the size of nets allowed. The rules also apply to recreational fishermen.

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Along with these restrictions the New England Fishery Management Council, which oversees fishing in the region, is slashing the amount of cod that fishermen are allowed to catch to just 386 metric tons per year — a 75 percent drop from last year, according to NOAA.

“People have made tremendous sacrifices, many of them put out of business, and despite all of that, we are told the stock is” still low, Tarr said. “So you can understand that people are frustrated and skeptical.”

John Bullard, NOAA’s Greater Atlantic regional administrator, said in a statement Monday that the cod stock in the Gulf of Maine “is in the worst shape we have seen in the 40 years that we have been monitoring it.”

Bullard said NOAA knows the new regulations “will have profound effects on small vessels that fish these inshore waters, particularly fishermen from New Hampshire and Massachusetts ports like Gloucester.”

But, he said, the measures are necessary to prevent the overfishing of the cod stock. Fishermen and their communities will adapt as they have in the past, the statement said.

Also on Tuesday, Baker addressed another matter that affects much of the Commonwealth: health care.

The governor-elect said he was glad that the plan to expand Partners HealthCare was being scrutinized by Suffolk Superior Court Judge Janet L. Sanders.

But, Baker said, it was unfair of her to suggest that Attorney General Martha Coakley’s gubernatorial ambitions may have played a role in negotiations.

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“I don’t think politics played a part in it, and as I’ve said since day one: I have a tremendous amount of respect for the attorney general as an attorney, as a person, and as a public official,” he said.

Baker defeated Coakley in last week’s gubernatorial election.

But he also called the deal complicated and said he worried about whether it would be enforceable — a stance he took on the campaign trail.

The settlement would allow Partners, the state’s biggest health system, to acquire three community hospitals while imposing price caps and putting limits on Partners’ growth and contracting practices.

In court Monday, Sanders raised doubts that the settlement would be a sufficient antidote to the increased market power that Partners would gain by acquiring three more hospitals.

Said Baker: “I think it’s good that we’re having a serious conversation in front of a thoughtful judge.”


Akilah Johnson can be reached at akilah.johnson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.