The Heat Is Online

Warming is devastating North Atlantic cod population

Climate change hurting N.E. cod population, study says

The Boston Globe, Oct. 30, 2105

The rapid warming of the waters off New England has contributed to the historic collapse of the region’s cod population and has hampered its ability to rebound, according to a study that for the first time links climate change to the iconic species’ plummeting numbers.

Between 2004 and 2013, the mean surface temperature of the Gulf of Maine — extending from Cape Cod to Cape Sable in Nova Scotia — rose a remarkable 4 degrees, which the researchers attributed to shifts in the ocean currents caused by global warming.

The study, which was released Thursday by the journal Science, offers the latest evidence of climate change — this time, affecting a species once so plentiful that fishermen used to joke that they could walk across the Atlantic on the backs of cod.

Fisheries management officials have sharply limited cod fishing in hopes of protecting the species, but they estimate the number of cod remain at as little as 3 percent of what would sustain a healthy population. The limits, in turn, have hurt fishermen.

“Managers [of the fishery] kept reducing quotas, but the cod population kept declining,” said Andrew Pershing, the study’s lead author and chief scientific officer of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland. “It turns out that warming waters were making the Gulf of Maine less hospitable for cod, and the management response was too slow to keep up with the changes.”