Cod use to be the backbone of New England’s fisheries, but now stocks have nearly collapsed. While the decline was due primarily to overfishing, a new report led by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) reveals that stocks haven’t been able to recover because of the rapidly warming waters in the Gulf of Maine.
The Gulf of Maine is warming 99% faster than anywhere else in the world, which has led to changes in major currents and climate phenomena.
Noting the continued decline of cod stocks, fisheries managers severely restricted harvest rates in 2010, but that hasn’t made much of a difference. Stocks are hovering around three to four percent of sustainable levels.
“Managers kept reducing quotas, but the cod population kept declining,” Andrew Pershing, GMRI Chief Scientific Officer and lead author of the study, explained in a news release. “It turns out that warming waters were making the Gulf of Maine less hospitable for cod, and the management response was too slow to keep up with the changes.”
The warming waters reduce the number of new cod produced by spawning females and make it more difficult for young fish to survive to adulthood. This means that even though fishermen have stayed within the set quotas, stocks continued to decline.
“This creates a frustrating situation that contributes to mistrust between fishermen, scientists, and managers,” Pershing said. “The first step toward adapting fisheries to a changing climate is recognizing that warming impacts fish populations.”
To learn more:
- Read the GMRI news release: Warming Waters a Major Factor in the Collapse of New England Cod
- Listen to a short summary from NPR: Why Is It So Hard To Save Gulf Of Maine Cod? They’re In Hot Water
- Read the report abstract: Slow adaptation in the face of rapid warming leads to collapse of the Gulf of Maine cod fishery
- Read more from a New England fisheries blog: Baked Cod – The Path Forward in an Era of Climate Change
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