New England

Working with fisherman to rebuild iconic New England fish stock

New England boats

Years ago, fishing boats going to the Gulf of Maine in search of cod would return with an abundance of fish. Early fishermen claimed the schools were so dense, and the fish so large, that fishermen could walk on their backs.

Today, boats return with just a small fraction of what they once caught. According to a recent peer-reviewed NOAA survey, cod stocks have dwindled to just 3 percent of what is required to sustain a healthy population. This problem was decades in the making.

A history of the cod crisis

In the 1980s and ‘90s, poor management and federal subsidies enabled the growth of a fishing fleet that was already too large and investments by many fishermen in better technology to find and catch cod. Excessive fishing pressure continued and accelerated in the 2000s with overly-optimistic stock assessments. Catch levels became too high for the stocks to handle, undermining the ability to recover by causing reproductive challenges and poor growth, among other problems. As a result, the cod population and its resilience has weakened over time.

Today, decades of poor management, climate change and often slow-moving reform efforts have left the fishery in crisis.

Our plan for recovery

Environmental Defense Fund is working with fishermen and other partners in New England to help make sure the cod fishery doesn’t become merely a part of history. We are advocating for 100% monitoring of the commercial groundfish fishery through a well-designed and cost-effective electronic monitoring program, and better reporting and accountability from the recreational fleet.

We are working with partners to promote and find markets for under-utilized and abundant species also caught in New England’s waters. And we are advocating for more collaboration and inclusion of fishermen as a part of the scientific stock assessment process.

Through these efforts, we are seeking to help fishermen weather this crisis and find a way to make sure that cod and the rest of our groundfish fishery remain a part of New England for years to come.