Once-Abundant Atlantic Cod Trait Hits New Low
One of the oldest fishing industries in the United States hit a new catch low last year, signaling that efforts to rebuild the fishery still have a long way to go.
New England fishermen have fished for Atlantic cod for centuries, but catches have declined over the past decade due to overfishing, restrictive fishing quotas and environmental changes. The vast majority of fish arrive at docks in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.
Maine fishermen brought less cod to the docks last year than any other in recorded history, state regulators said earlier this month. State catches, which were more than 20 million pounds in the early 1990s, were less than 50,000 pounds last year, according to state records.
Cod is the fish of choice for fish and chips in the United States, but the collapse of the industry has made the country dependent on imports from countries like Iceland. Russia is another major exporter, but the United States has banned Russian seafood imports due to the invasion of Ukraine.
U.S. fishing quotas for Atlantic cod are so low that most anglers avoid them altogether, said Terry Alexander, a fisherman based in Harpswell, Maine. These same fishermen target other species of bottom whitefish such as haddock and flounder.
“We cannot fish for cod. The quota is so low that no one can target cod. Nobody,” said Alexander. “That’s how we’re going to do it. »
National catches of Atlantic cod bottomed out in 2020 at around 1.6 million pounds. National numbers for 2021 have yet to be compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which regulates fishing in the United States. National Atlantic cod catches were well over 100 million pounds per year in the early 1980s.
The collapse of the cod fishing industry stands in stark contrast to much of the rest of Maine’s fishing industry, which has grown in value in recent years. Much of the growth comes from soaring prices for lobster, the state’s main export.