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
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
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
Atlantic Cod; Photo Credit: NOAA
Yesterday, I recounted the recent history of assessments of the Gulf of Maine (GOM) cod stock that has led to a looming crisis for many New England fishermen, and the management response underway in the form of emergency action. Today, I discuss two major goals that will most effectively use the time before us to potentially change our understanding of cod status, and avoid or minimize socio-economic hardship.
Expand our scientific perspective
Before the 2011 assessment had even been reviewed, a barrage of criticisms began to be levied. To be sure, many decisions made during the assessment could have gone a different direction, including data to include or exclude, values for key parameters, and determination of reference points. Renowned ecologist E.O. Wilson once observed that ecology is far more complex than physics, and fisheries science is a close cousin of ecology. There are few universal rules for how to assess fish stocks, and the discipline relies heavily on experience, professional judgment, vigorous debate, peer review, and trial and error. The GOM cod assessment was not lacking in any of those elements. In my view, the assessment was done right, was done well, and should be commended for achieving what it set out to do. Gerrymandering the assessment to get a more favorable outcome is both bad practice and bad policy. Read More
Atlantic Cod; Photo Credit: NOAA
By now, most people concerned with fisheries management in New England, and in fact many others across the country, are aware of the difficult situation unfolding around the Gulf of Maine (GOM) cod stock. For those who are not, a stock assessment completed late in 2011 drastically altered our perception of the stock from the last assessment completed in 2008, and suggests that the resource is in much worse shape than we previously thought.
Actually, in many ways the 2011 assessment tells a story similar to the 2008 assessment: Biomass reached all-time lows during the 1990s, but then approximately doubled by 2001. Thereafter, biomass dipped again to another low point in the mid-2000s, before climbing again toward the end of the 2000s.
The critical difference between the two assessments lies in the pace of rebuilding since the recent low in the mid-2000s. The 2008 assessment suggested that the population was increasing extremely rapidly, with growth of more than 200% from 2005 to 2007. In doing so, it had exceeded the overfishing threshold, and was well on its way toward the rebuilding target biomass that would produce the maximum sustainable yield on a continuing basis. Read More
As the New England groundfish fishery moves to "sector" management (fishing cooperative-based catch shares), it’s good to get the perspective of someone with nearly a half-century of fishing experience. Frank Mirarchi, a fisherman out of Scituate, Massachusetts, describes the busts that repeatedly followed boom years. I share Frank's optimism that sector management–once all the details are worked through–will restore the natural abundance of fish in the Gulf of Maine. This time, however, as long as sectors are well-designed and enforced, the boom years should keep going in perpetuity, moving us away from the crisis management that has marked the New England groundfish fishery for the last several decades.