Atlantic cod catch crashes to record low for Maine, New England

Published on
March 30, 2017

Cod stocks in waters near to the New England region of the United States are falling to all-time lows, according to a recent report from the Associated Press

Foreign cod caught and exported to the U.S. by Norway, Russia and Iceland is becoming more prominent in New England supermarkets to keep pace with demand as domestic stocks dwindle. Even fishers and fishing organizations in the state of Maine, where the second-largest Atlantic cod fishery in the United States is located, are skeptical that cod fishing in the region will regain any of its past success anytime soon. 

“It’s going to be more and more difficult for people to make this work,” said Maggie Raymond, executive director of the Associated Fisheries of Maine, to the Associated Press.

Maine fishers hauled in less than 170,000 pounds of cod in 2016, a historical low, beating out the previous record low in 2015, when the state pulled in just about 250,000 pounds of cod. These figures are a far cry from the state’s best year, 1991, when fishers caught more than 21 million pounds of cod, the AP found.

Massachusetts, the epicenter of the U.S. Atlantic cod fishery, is similarly struggling – catch has fallen to less than three million pounds in 2015, a steep drop when compared to the nearly 100 million pounds of catch recorded in 1980.

New Hampshire and Rhode Island are in the same boat, with catch dropping to 44,701 pounds and 138,891 pounds respectively in 2015. In 1997, at the height of the fishery for both states, New Hampshire fishers brought in more than two million pounds of cod, and Rhode Island fishers caught 474,908 pounds of the staple species most often used as the feature of fish-and-chips meals.

Quotas in Maine and the rest of New England have been narrowed by the federal government. The catch limit for the Gulf of Maine was hovering at about a million pounds in 2016; in 2011, the catch limit was more than 18 million pounds. 

“The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released an assessment of the Gulf of Maine cod stock in 2014 that said the spawning population was at its lowest point in the history of the study of the fish. Scientists have cited years of overfishing and inhospitable environmental conditions as possible reasons for the decline,” the Associated Press reported. 

The fishery is up for a new assessment in 2017, Jamie Cournane, groundfish plan coordinator for the New England Fishery Management Council, confirmed to the Associated Press.

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