Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) has long been an important part of the New England economy. Even in the 1600’s many coastal New England communities thrived as a result of the cod fishery. However, a failure to recover from multiple cod stock collapses in the 1990’s and recent drastic cuts to the allowable catch quotas for cod in the western Atlantic may soon change the kind of impact this fish species has in New England.
The New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC), a group responsible for managing fishery resources within the federal 200-mile limit off the coasts of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, recently voted to recommend drastic catch quota reductions that could result in significantly fewer cod being landed. The recommendation is aimed at helping the cod fishery recover, but the effects of such a measure on the fishing industry and local economy could be severe.
The NEFMC approved a 77 percent reduction in the Gulf of Maine cod limit and a 55 percent decrease in the U.S. share of Georges Bank cod. The council sited conditions of the two separate cod stocks as a major factor in the decision as both are considered to be at very low levels with high fishing mortality. The federal government still needs to approve the NEFMC recommendations, which is expected to happen in time for the new regulations to take effect by May 1, 2013.
Fishermen say that impacts to the commercial fishing businesses associated with the cod stocks could include reducing the number of boats, boat crews, processors and other related services. For communities like Gloucester, Massachusetts this could mean putting a lot of people out of work and changing a way of life that has been in place for decades, if not centuries.
The best case scenario for both cod and the fishermen is that the stocks recover quickly to something that is sustainable for both the ocean ecosystems and the economies so tightly linked to them. This story will likely have to play out of several years before we understand the impacts and ultimate results.