For years, fishermen from Gloucester to New Bedford have accused the federal government of relying on faulty science to assess the health of the region’s cod population, a fundamental flaw that has greatly exaggerated its demise, they say, and led officials to wrongly ban nearly all fishing of the iconic species.
(From The Boston Globe / By David Abel) — The fishermen’s concerns resonated with Governor Charlie Baker, so last year he commissioned his own survey of the waters off New England, where cod were once so abundant that fishermen would say they could walk across the Atlantic on their backs.
Now, in a milestone in the war over the true state of cod in the Gulf of Maine, Massachusetts scientists have reached the same dismal conclusion that their federal counterparts did: The region’s cod are at a historic low — about 80 percent less than the population from just a decade ago.
“The bottom line is that the outlook of Gulf of Maine cod is not good,” said Micah Dean, a scientist who oversaw the survey for the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. “What we’ve seen is a warning sign about the future of the fishery, and it’s a stark change from what we saw a decade ago.”
The state’s surveys, conducted on an industry trawler, also found a dearth of juvenile cod and large cod, suggesting that the population could remain in distress for years. The lack of small cod reflects limited reproduction, while the absence of the larger fish is a problem because they’re capable of prolific spawning.
Dean said he hoped fishermen would find the results credible, given that the survey sought to accommodate their concerns about the federal survey, conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
To address their concerns, the state spent more than $500,000 to trawl for cod in 10 times as many locations. Rather than sampling the waters twice a year, as NOAA does, the state cast its nets every month from last April to January, and kept them in the water about 50 percent longer. They also searched for the fish in deeper waters, where fishermen have said they tend to congregate.
“It was an exhaustive survey meant to provide an answer to the questions that the fishermen were posing,” Dean said. “But the fish weren’t there.”
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