Jay Turnure, a contract field biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, displays the otolith of a cod that will be sold at the Portland Fish Exchange in this January 2017 BDN file photo. The bone-like structure will be analyzed to determine the age of the fish. Credit: Jake Bleiberg

PORTLAND, Maine — The federal government is touting new protections for young cod as a way to help rebuild the population of the fish.

The population of cod has plummeted off of New England, which was once home to a much larger fishery for the species. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says new fishing management rules include a Habitat Area of Particular Concern designation to help juvenile cod.

The zone stretches along the coast from Maine to Rhode Island and includes areas of rocky or vegetated habitats, as well as sandy areas nearby. NOAA says these areas need extra protection because they provide shelter from predators for young cod.

The agency says protection of the habitat is intended to try to give the cod a better chance to grow to maturity.

The U.S. cod fishery, based mostly in Massachusetts and Maine, brought in more than 100 million pounds of fish a year in the early 1980s and bottomed out at 3.2 million pounds in 2016. Scientists have blamed factors including years of heavy harvest and warming oceans for the collapse of the stock.

American markets and restaurants have become reliant on cod imported from countries such as Iceland and Russia since the stock dried up here. The fish, which is closely associated with fish and chips, is still readily available to U.S. consumers for that reason.

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