"There's twice as many cod there compared to the 1990s, but they're still not at the levels we'd like to see them at."
Just a few years ago, the government projected that the area was well on its way to recovery after decades of overfishing. Federal regulators then raised catch rates to nearly five times the sustainable level based estimates now believed to have been far too optimistic.
That, combined with warmer waters, pollution and policies that protect natural predators like seals, have all contributed to fewer fish that triggered the mandatory cuts.
While larger commercial trawlers capable of traveling to more distant fishing grounds are expected to survive, the plan will likely cost most of the region's smaller crews their jobs.
"Fifteen years from now, it'll all be corporate," Robillard said. "The mom-and-pop days are over."
Still, codfish aren't about to become an endangered species, according to Sam Rauch, head of the NOAA's fisheries service. Coming restrictions are about protecting the overall size of the cod population and complying with federal law.
Environmentalists say depleted stocks show the region needs time to recover in order to save it.
But fishermen are furious.
They say the law and its targets are largely arbitrary and argue that murky science surrounding fish estimates has given fodder to those willing to let their livelihoods founder.
In September, the Commerce Department declared the Northeast ground fishery a formal disaster, which raised hopes of economic relief that were later dashed in a trimmed-down relief bill for victims of Superstorm Sandy.