A group of researchers have found that the Gulf of Maine warmed faster than 99.9% of the world’s oceans between 2004 and 2013. Rapidly warming waters have made it extremely difficult for the cod stocks to rebound from fishing. It explains why the cod population has declined to just 3% to 4% of sustainable levels despite a series of harvesting restrictions by fisheries managers in 2010.
Cod stock on the verge of collapse in the Gulf of Maine
Dr. Andrew Pershing of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) published findings of his study in Science magazine on Thursday. He said climate variances in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans along with changes in the position of Gulf Stream and global climate change are pushing cod population to the “verge of collapse.” Restrictions have done little to help increase the cod population.
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Warming waters were making Gulf of Maine increasingly less hospitable for cod, but the response of fisheries managers was “too slow to keep up with changes.” In fact, managers’ efforts may have fueled the decline, say scientists. Fisheries had set strict quota limits for fishermen, but without accounting for warming waters in the Gulf of Maine. As a result, they set quota ceilings too high, indirectly endorsing overfishing.
Warm waters reduce the survivability of young fish
Cod is a cold water fish. Warm waters inhibit their reproduction and reduce the survivability rate of young fish. Pershing said warming waters could more easily expose the young fish to predators. Even though fisheries enforced their quotas strictly, the limits were wrong. It could have caused mistrust between scientists, managers, and fishermen. Scientists urged managers to factor in temperatures when making fishery models.
According to NOAA, cod is the 8th most commonly consumed seafood species in the United States. Cod population along the Canadian coast has increased significantly, thanks to the federal moratorium imposed in 1992. The northern cod population off Newfoundland and Labrador had been declining for decades before the Canadian government imposed moratorium on fishing. Scientists believe if the Canadian stock can recover, there is the same potential for cod stock in the Gulf of Maine.