Wednesday, August 17, 2005

In Cod We Trusted

The Post has a short article today reporting that cod stocks in the Northeast have dropped 25% over the last 4 years. For anyone who has read the book Cod: A Biography of a Fish that Changed the World, this will likely come as no surprise. Trawling fleets pretty much decimated the cod population off of America's Northeast Shelf from about the late 1950s through the early 1990s. At the time, fisherman couldn't be convinced that cod were in danger of going extinct, much less suffering a population collapse. Their argument to the contrary: "Look at the all fish we pull in, there must be healthy stocks." That is sort of like using a bigger spoon to eat your cereal and averring that because your mouth is fuller, there must be plenty of cereal in your bowl. It is, of course, total bullshit. Take a peek at this page and look at the chart about half-way down. It shows commercial landing amounts and trawler population surveys for 1965-1995. The population surveys show a steady if erratic decline over those years, while the landing amounts climb until 1989 when they begin to plummet.

Fast forward ten years and what are the people saying about cod now? Fish stocks have declined 25% in four years. The NEFMC and National Marine Fisheries Service dragged their heels for most of those four years trying to avoid implementing a recovery plan that would burden the cod industry with catch limits or other regulations. They finally put a plan in place and when population figures show declining numbers of cod, they argue that we must wait "several more months" for the plan to start working. C'mon now people, do I look like an idiot. I know the NOAA folk and the regional fishery management councils must deal with political realities, but if political realities are divorced from physical reality something is very wrong.

The political reality is, northeastern fisherman want to continue fishing for cod and nobody wants to limit their catch. The physical reality is, the cod stocks are crashing again. We put in a plan that allows overfishing to preserve local economies. If you're trying to recover fish stocks alrady decimated by overfishing, how will more overfishing help them recover? I find this all very frustrating. I know every fishing town in the Northeast can't become a tourist mecca, but there must be a better way than our current myopic and irrational system.