Selected tag(s): Cod

Why are cod struggling to recover in New England? Climate change is part of the answer

Pershing et al.

Heat map showing warming waters in the Gulf of Maine over time. Credit: Pershing et al.

Climate change is preventing cod from rebuilding in New England. Many scientists and fishermen believe this, and a study released last week in Science by Dr. Andrew Pershing from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and his co-authors provides new evidence to support this claim.

A brief history

Cod, an iconic species and a mainstay of New England fisheries, were overfished for decades, with catch levels peaking during the 1980s. In 2010, the fishery transitioned to the current quota-based management system under an Annual Catch Limit (ACL). Bringing cod under a fixed quota system should have ended overfishing and brought about recovery of the stock, but in recent years the biomass of Gulf of Maine cod has continued to decline, and was estimated in 2014 to be at just 3-4% of sustainable levels. Fishermen are catching fewer cod every year, and the quota is now so low that most fishermen actively try to avoid catching them. Yet despite these very strict catch limits, Gulf of Maine cod have not rebounded and the region’s fishermen are suffering devastating economic consequences. Read More »

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New England Fisheries Need A New Roadmap

Atlantic cod

Atlantic Cod; Photo Credit: NOAA

In yesterday’s  New York Times, Oceana’s Gib Brogan raised serious concerns in an Opinion piece, “A Knockout Blow for American Fish Stocks,” about both the future facing New England cod and the New England Management Council’s stewardship of the region’s fisheries resource. We share many of Gib’s concerns.

Fisheries management is too often presented as a choice between protecting the environment, on the one hand, and the economic interests of fishermen and coastal communities on the other. But we know from our experience in United States that the two are inextricably linked. With many fisheries around the country rebounding, fishermen are among the primary beneficiaries as catch limits increase. Conversely in New England, the collapse of cod presents a significant challenge to coastal fishing businesses; and the recent initiatives of the council on habitat and monitoring are dangerous precisely because they further jeopardize the fishery’s long-term prospects. Read More »

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It’s Time to Take New England’s Groundfish Fishery Out of the Dark

Fishing boats in Chatham, MA. Photo: Tim Connor

Fishing boats in Chatham, MA. Photo: Tim Connor

What every fishing port in New England has long feared has now come true: the iconic cod fish is disappearing in our waters. If our shared goal is to rebuild a sustainable fishery for years to come, then we need to better understand what is happening to the fish stocks. This calls for better science, which has been the subject of discussion for years.

A key foundation of better science is better catch monitoring.  Inadequate catch data is the Achilles heel of the groundfish fishery in New England – particularly with cod – and the only way to improve this in a cost-effective way is through a comprehensive monitoring system that uses video technology. Read More »

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Bringing New England cod back: History, Challenges and Solutions

Photo credit: Tim Connor, EDF

Fishing boats in Chatham, MA. Photo credit: Tim Connor, EDF

It’s time to face the fact that the cod fishery in New England is on the verge of collapse. The problem has been a long time coming. Decades of heavy fishing pressure, federal subsidies, counterproductive political intervention, unpredictable science, inadequate catch data and now climate change, have brought the iconic cod fishery to its knees.

The calls for a closure are increasing and it’s getting harder to justify opposition to such a move.

Some would say this centuries old fishery, a staple of New England, needs a miracle. But what it really needs is leadership. Now is the time for our leaders to step up and make hard choices. Are we going to let New England’s cod become a relic? Or are we going to reverse the tide and do everything necessary to bring this important fishery back from the brink? Read More »

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Closed areas can decrease uncertainty in effects of climate change on New England Fisheries

Gulf of Maine Map

Photo Credit: New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance

As fishermen around New England will be the first to point out, this summer, much like last year, has been abnormal. The ocean waters were warmer and cod, haddock, and flounders—the mainstay of our fishing industry for centuries—are increasingly elusive. There’s plenty of blame to go around, including decades of mismanagement and overfishing, inexact science and a mismatch in abundance of certain predatory species. Looking beyond these factors, the impact of climate change on fisheries is another factor driving fish abundance that’s worth a hard look.

The level of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere has now exceeded 400 parts per million, contributing to rising ocean temperatures. Some of the fastest increases in the last few decades have occurred in the Northwest Atlantic, and 2012 registered the largest annual increase in mean sea surface temperature for the Northwest Atlantic in the last 30 years.  

It is clear that climate change is disrupting New England’s fisheries right now; it is no longer an abstract, future scenario.

In the face of this evidence, fisheries managers need to factor in climate change alongside fishing effort and other elements when determining how to manage and rebuild fish stocks. The impacts of climate change can prevent fisheries management inactions from rebuilding fish populations, and conversely, excess fishing pressure can hinder the ability of a fish population to adapt to changes in climate. As I have written recently, a network of well-designed closed areas represents a promising management strategy to address the effect of climate change on fisheries. Read More »

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Disaster Funds and Cod Problems: Setting the Record Straight about Fisheries in New England


Photo from NOAA

New England has received a lot of media attention recently about the fisheries disaster declared by President Barack Obama. The precipitous decline in groundfish in New England waters has created an imminent need to help fishermen and fishing communities that depend on stable healthy fish populations.

It is important to dispense with false rumors and to set the record straight.  There is an effort on the part of some to claim that catch shares are somehow responsible for the New England groundfish population declines. To claim this is to suggest that fishermen have exceeded their catch limits and are not following the rules. This is simply not true. In fact, sector fishermen have been working hard to stay under their catch limits, and in some cases remain well below these limits.

In reality, the disaster declaration was based on the fact that there are changes happening in the ecosystem that are impeding the rebuilding of fish populations.  We are forced to confront the frightening reality that fishing is changing in part because our oceans are changing.  We are dealing with a resource problem, not a management problem. Read More »

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