While things look bleak for cod populations in the United States, particularly on Georges Bank and in the Gulf of Maine where late last month regulators slashed quotas for these beleaguered stocks, cod off of Norway and Russia are providing an encouraging example of the fish’s resilience when managed wisely.
As Reuters reports this week, fishermen in the far north are enjoying a boom in cod fishing where “the quota off northern Norway and Russia is a record 1.02 million metric tonnes, up a third from 2012 and six times as high as in 1990.”
The article credits both global warming for expanding the fish’s range northwards, but also the strict management of quotas issued from Oslo and Moscow.
Christopher Costello of the University of California, Santa Barbara, was the lead author of a study that appeared in the journal Science that, while acknowledging that most of the world's fisheries were overexploited, asserted that assessed stocks in developed nations were heading towards sustainability. In addition, Costello and his colleagues argue that by taking simple steps like protecting habitat and setting science-based quotas, world fishery yields could jump as much as 40 percent. As he told Reuters:
"We now know that we can make fisheries recover. That sounds obvious but even 10 years ago many people would have disagreed, saying 'we've already decimated them to a point of no return'.”
Many experts [are] now dropping a belief that overfished stocks, like cod off Canada, can never revive. Closing fishing grounds, or cracking down on illegal catches usually gives stocks a needed respite, he said.
With quotas of the flaky whitefish gutted in New England and new rules that will limit the amount of fish the northeast fishing industry is able to discard, Atlantic cod still face a changing ocean and the legacy of centuries of exploitation. But if the Russian and Norwegian-managed cod is any example, the future of this fish may be brighter than some suppose. If we stand by the science that shows the importance of protecting nursery grounds, minimizing bycatch and ending overfishing, cod can come back.