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Atlantic Cod

Marine Protected Areas & Atlantic Cod

Case Study

Fishermen haul a trawl.

Record volumes of cod and haddock were landed in New England between 1976 and 1985, but as the eighties drew to a close, the immense catches came to an end and the cod fishery collapsed.

To stop the continuous decline of many fish populations, the U.S. Congress enacted the Sustainable Fisheries Act in 1996 requiring fishery managers to take steps to rebuild over-fished stocks. Many marine scientists and conservation groups believe that the law has yet to be put into practice. Because of the difficulties of mandating and enforcing sustainable fishing practices, a growing number of marine scientists are proponents of establishing marine reserves that are off-limits to fishing of any kind. Although very few of these marine protected areas exist worldwide, they have been shown to restore fish populations within their boundaries and beyond.

Marine reserves protect entire ecosystems.

Marine protected areas are supported by a growing number of scientists who are concerned with the impacts of industrial fishing gear on marine eco-systems vital to fish and other wildlife. Though species like cod can generally repopulate quickly, seafloor damaged by destructive fishing practices can reduce their resiliency. Because of a fishing technique known as bottom trawling, the availability of food and places to hide have become more scarce —making juvenile cod themselves easier prey for other fish. In recent years an innovation known as a “rock-hopper” has been added—a set of heavy rubber wheels that roll along the ocean floor, preventing the net from tearing on large rocks and uneven terrain. Vast areas of seafloor formerly inaccessible to fishing are now being trawled.

Although many fishermen have chosen to use other gear or to use trawls more cautiously, many fear that their livelihoods might be further jeopardized if marine reserves displace them from fishing grounds.