Dire realities face New England’s fishing families and communities with the announcement last week by the New England Fisheries Management Council that cod quotas for the Gulf of Maine should be cut by 77 percent. These realities including the loss of jobs, vessels, houses, to say nothing of a way of life. But taken in the context of the centuries-long history of fishing in these waters and the latest evidence that recruitment of young cod into the stock is not happening, the council’s decision was the only course of action possible.
For decades the waters off New England have been subject to some of the most intense fishing pressure and environmental impacts of any body of water in the world. These impacts include shipping traffic, pollution, loss of habitat, and myriad other factors. Researchers at the University of California Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute determined in a study titled, “A Global Map of Human Impact on Marine Ecosystems,” that the Gulf of Maine and environs had suffered an overall degradation of more than 90 percent compared to their pristine state. The worst of this has occurred in the last 50 years.