Cod forsaking the Gulf of Maine


The prospects for restoring the cod population in the Gulf of Maine to a commercially sustainable level seem to be getting even more dismal than before.

Last month, scientists with the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, Mass., announced that their latest population assessment update paints a “grim picture” for the future of the gulf’s cod population.

“Unfortunately the news is not good,” NEFSC said in the Aug. 1 release. “The results indicate virtually every indicator of stock condition declined or worsened in 2013.”

The main points emphasized in the release are that cod in the gulf are reproducing at only 3 to 4 percent of the goal that experts say will support a commercially sustainable fishery, and that the resource and spawning stock “are at all time lows.”

Scientific advisers to the New England Fisheries Management Council met last week in Portsmouth to evaluate the stock assessment update and are drafting a report that the council will consider when it meets in four weeks at the Cape Codder Resort & Spa in Hyannis (which, obviously, owes its name to the once-abundant fish that drew European fishermen across the sea).

The council is expected to weigh the stock assessment in deciding whether to further restrict cod fishing in the gulf. Some believe cod fishing could be shut down entirely from Cape Cod to the Canadian border – a step that has been advocated by some environmental advocacy groups who blame overfishing and fishery mismanagement for the declining cod stocks.

The Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association released a statement that suggests the stock assessment doesn’t jibe with what fishermen have seen.

Members of the association have been trying to avoid cod because of the low catch limits, said MCFA executive director Ben Martens, but “still landings are almost double what they were last year at this time. If this stock assessment holds up it will be another huge blow to Maine fishermen who already are struggling to survive.”

No one disputes that cod have been overfished historically in the Gulf of Maine, though some say that climate change and warming ocean temperatures could be contributing to the current scarcity in the gulf by causing them migrate further to the northeast.

Whatever the cause, the disappearance of cod from a place where they have been fished for centuries is not something anyone wants to witness.

Bill Trotter

About Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors. He writes about fisheries, marine-related topics, eastern coastal Maine communities and more for the BDN. He lives in Ellsworth. Follow him on Twitter at @billtrotter.