Opinion

Worst times, or just very, very bad? Industry splits hairs over the awful condition of cod

Atlantic cod (Photo credit: NOAA)

There remain some marginal voices in the fishing industry who continue to claim that cod populations are not in bad shape. Taking issue with a recent conclusion of mine that Atlantic cod were in their worst condition in history, these apologists for overfishing suggest that cod are just “in the middle of a rebuilding period.” Nonsense. Atlantic cod have been officially determined to be overfished since 1990 and been in a “rebuilding period” since 1995. They are not even close to the halfway point of being rebuilt even after 23 years of “management.” I suspect there are some who don’t care if cod ever come back.

The facts are this: the 2012 federal fall trawl survey and the Massachusetts spring trawl survey—both independent, science-driven and fully objective processes—each caught the fewest Atlantic cod during their survey that they ever have in the full history of the surveys. The federal spring survey in New England started in 1968; the state survey started in 1978. Is this a situation that the industry really wants to quibble about?

Source: www.mass.gov/eea/docs/dfg/dmf/programsandprojects/2012-resource-annual-report.pdf

New cod reaching maturity have been at persistent historic lows in recent years, and the landings at the dock reflect this. Last year the New England fleet only caught 35% of the Georges Bank cod that they were allowed to catch and 60% of the Gulf of Maine cod they were allowed to catch despite flexibility in transferring quota and high market prices. Even the single modeling result—the estimated spawning stock biomass—that these spin doctors point to in their claims that things for cod have been worse is conditioned by the scientists themselves as probably being optimistic when compared to the real situation. (Isn’t it interesting, by the way, how the same industry apologists who are so quick to savage the federal stock assessment science when it doesn’t say what they want to hear are so quick to rely on it when it does?)

The facts I pay attention to leave me, unfortunately, completely comfortable in concluding that these are the worst of times for Atlantic cod.


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