Cod Fishermen Are Even More Screwed Than You Thought

Reality bites. Or, er, doesn't bite, as the case may be. An excellent post. Thanks! - promoted by Bob_Neer

New Bedford's Working WaterfrontAfter months of contentious debate, New Bedford Standard Times reporter Steve Urbon says the New England Fishery Management Council finalized deep cuts to cod fishing quotas yesterday:

The final vote cut the available catch of Gulf of Maine cod by 77 percent to 1,506 metric tons in fishing year 2013. This will have the effect of reducing some fishing boats to one day at sea, or even one hour.

Georges Bank cod was cut by 61 percent, to 2,506 metric tons. Many fishermen this year are not catching their quota but these cuts are deeper than any shortfall they are experiencing.

Some members, including John Quinn, of Dartmouth, implored NOAA scientists to get serious about coming up with ways of measuring the effects of freshwater influxes into the ocean, ocean warming and the rise of predators such as seals and dogfish.

Even more alarming for fishermen and their families: The reduced quota is just acknowledging that the fisheries have completely collapsed. As NOAA Fisheries Northeast director John K. Bullard said a week ago, “There are no fish”:

Cape Cod’s representative on the council, Tom Dempsey, told The Standard-Times that Cape fishermen are very concerned about their inability to even catch their quotas of Georges Bank cod.

Asked what effect cuts in allocation would mean, Dempsey said fishermen already feel as though their quotas have been cut because they cannot find enough fish under the existing levels.

It’s sad to see Massachusetts elected officials trying to blame Bullard for the cuts. Do they really think the former mayor of New Bedford would be trying to stick it to fishermen?

Just look at the annual catch of cod on the Grand Banks:

Grand Banks Annual Catch (Metric Tons). Source: Annual Catch of Cod from 1850 to 2011, Myers et al., 1995; Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization.

That’s cold, hard reality. We overfished cod, the population collapsed, and even reduced catch quotas aren’t bringing them back – we’re decades too late. We could eliminate all fishing tomorrow and who knows how long it would take for cod to recover – years? Decades? Conversely, we could eliminate all regulations tomorrow, and the fishermen who depend on cod would still be screwed – there are just no fish left to catch.

If we want to help communities like Gloucester and New Bedford, we should be investing in new industries like offshore wind power. Otherwise we’re just leaving them to fight over the last fish left in the sea.

Cross-posted from The Green Miles


8 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Possibly more than overfishing at play

    The NYT ran this story over two pages. At the very end, this:

    But some fishermen and environmentalists said that overfishing was not the only reason for the paucity of cod, with some putting part of the blame on climate change.
    “We’re seeing a distinct ecosystem change,” Mr. Mirarchi said. “The water’s warmer. We’re seeing species that normally never come into the north lingering into the fall. Something else is going on besides just fishing.”

  2. What is the label for the y-axis

    Seriously. 100 fish? 100 pounds? 100 nets? 100 tons? 100 permitted boats? 100 boat-days?

    • Good point

      Updated caption

      • Thanks!

        1 metric ton is ~2200 lbs. The historic average is right around 200 metric tons, or about 440,000 pounds of cod. That’s 1,760,000 4 ounce servings, enough to serve 4,822 people a 4 ounce portion every day all year.

        • Just sad

          This is not one of those cut and dry issues. I feel for the fishermen and do not want their livelihoods to end, but even they concede they just aren’t enough fish left. I’ve seen the price of fresh seafood triple in my own lifetime and its just getting worse. In Chicago the only cod I’ve been able to find is Pacific Cod since the Atlantic bed is just dried up. I’ve switched to tilapia out of sustainability concerns, and its interesting to see that fish on more and more New England menu’s. Apparently dogfish and monkfish are becoming delicacies to some palletes so maybe they can switch their, and we should invest in job retraining and work displacement payments until the fishermen can get new jobs.

          • Good point about alternatives

            Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch is a great resource.

          • What's sad is

            this is cut and dry. How’d we get here?

          • Similar dynamics to climate change

            It doesn’t take a PhD to look at the peak in that graph and conclude that we destroyed the fishery. I find the attacks on the science and scientists appallingly reminiscent of the dynamic driving the politics of climate change.

            As tragic as the impact this collapse is (the industry has collapsed without the mandated cuts — just look at the graph), it pales in comparison to the pain and suffering that is relentlessly moving towards us as we continue to do nothing about climate change.

            I find the magical thinking of too many of our elected officials and journalists disturbing. I agree with trickle-up — this is cut and dry.

            The science is settled. The question is whether we have the courage to face the implications of that science.

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