Thursday, April 03, 2008

Phantom cod

Cod are missing from Chatham, Massachusetts. Where did they go? Chatham's fishermen are afraid that cod don't have enough to eat.

Interesting that the article makes no mention of overfishing. For at least the past couple of decades, and probably the past couple of centuries, we've been guilty of overfishing cod. That's catching fish faster than they can reproduce. Why worry about subtle, indirect harm when we're busy pulling too many cod out of the ocean?

So the cod are gone. I wonder if we'll finally do what it takes to bring them back. I worry when the focus goes away from overfishing before we're done solving that problem. Food for cod is important, there's no doubt about that. But focusing on herring while cod overfishing continues is like trying to do calculus before you learn to add and subtract. Let's stick to basics first, and tidy up that nasty little overfishing problem.


Piscophile said...

The article could do a better job of explicitly pointing at ground overfishing issues but on my read of both pages (the link points to the second of two), they are implicitly recognized. Like cod, river herring have been decimated - though arguably much more habitat has been lost by dams and other barriers. They are worth saving for their own sake, and for the sake of the ecosystem -- they were formerly a critical food chain link for passing terrestrial and marine energy up to higher levels. I would not characterize the efforts of the fishermen and their environmental group partners as a mis-direction from overfishing concerns. Ecosystem based fisheries management requires attention to both prey and predators and we have the capacity, ingenuity, and responsibility to do so.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Chatham fishermen ARE addressing the overfishing problem. Local fishermen have formed harvesting cooperatives (Sectors) and are not catching more cod than they're (responsibly) allowed to. Chatham cod fishermen who are involved in the only 2 groundfish Sectors in New England can guarantee that they are not participating in overfishing of Georges Bank, and haven't been for a number of years.

Cod face a plethora of problems in New England, which can be identified in a number of media pieces produced over the last few years. This NYT article focused on just one - Joe Q. Public can't purchase his Chatham-caught cod in March because, among other things, industrial "midwater" trawlers are severely impacting the forage fish - including sea herring (target catch) and river herring (bycatch) - populations in the region. Until this devastating fleet is well-monitored and held accountable for their fishing behavior, this generation of responsible Chatham fishermen (and others throughout New England) will be the last.

Mark Powell said...

Overfishing of cod is the neglected tragedy in New England. Check the official federal government report on the status of cod, at:
It shows overfishing for George's Bank cod and Gulf of Maine cod, as of fall 2007. The management target is to allow overfishing, and the Chatham sector is apportioned a share of the overfishing.

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