"We set the rules and clearly the rules have failed," he said. "There's no other conclusion."
The fishery council's science committee is recommending catch reductions of 81 percent for cod in the Gulf of Maine, to 1,249 metric tons, and 61 percent for cod in Georges Banks, to 2,506 metric tons. As recently as 2003, fishermen caught about 8,000 metric tons of Gulf of Maine cod and about 12,000 metric tons of cod in Georges Bank.
New Hampshire fishermen Dave Goethel, a council member, said the recommend catch limits aren't "even remotely enough fish to make any of these boats viable businesses."
"We're not talking about, 'Oh yeah, we're going to have a tough year next year,'" Goethel said this earlier week. "We're talking about, you know, that's it.'"
Bullard said he thinks the groundfish industry will ultimately continue in some form, as fishermen seek alternatives to stay in business for now. Some fishermen have already turned to other commercial seafood, such as monkfish or lobster, and Bullard predicts people will hang on until the groundfish get healthy.
The upheaval will be painful, but it's no different from what other industries face, he said.
"A plant shuts down. A person who's worked there for 30 years all of the sudden goes to the factory door and it's closed," Bullard said. "You learn a new trade and you adapt. ... People adapt and they survive."
Goethel said the bulk of his assets and decades of his life are tied up in fishing. At age 59, whatever's ahead for the industry, he has to ride it out.
"Fishermen are eternal optimists. Every day I go to sea I'm going to have the best day I ever had in my life," he said. "So, yeah, I'm always optimistic that somehow, some way I haven't figured out how yet, we'll find a way out of this mess."