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After Many Years, New England Cod Seems To Be Rebounding From Overfishing

Atlantic cod, a fish that was foundational to New England’s economy, is being caught at historically low levels. But a research scientist says cod is in the early stages of a comeback.



Atlantic cod was central to building New England’s economy. But today, the fishing industry pulls in historically low levels because of strict limits on the catch. A research scientist, however, has new data that suggests cod might be staging a comeback. From The Public’s Radio in Rhode Island, Ben Berke reports.

BEN BERKE, BYLINE: Before Raymond Lees goes fishing, he stops by Reidar’s Trawl Gear in New Bedford, Mass., where he buys custom nets that help him avoid certain types of fish. For commercial fishermen like Lees, cod is known as a choke species, meaning fishermen catch so much of it by accident, they sometimes hit their quota and have to stop fishing for what they really want.

RAYMOND LEES: I’ve been scalloping close to five years because I haven’t been able to fish what I was traditionally trained to do, and that’s chase codfish and flounders.

BERKE: Shop owner Tor Bendiksen is a former fisherman himself.

BERKE: As he trims a net design his family has been refining for generations, Bendiksen says he’s watched the number of boats fishing for cod out of New Bedford shrink by 90%.

TOR BENDIKSEN: Well, we went from, you know, a huge fishing business, as far as the groundfishing fleet’s concerned, of, you know, 300 boats down to, you know, 20 boats, which is – what? – two dozen boats.

BERKE: Fishing ports up and down the East Coast suffered similar fates. It’s been a long decline for a fishery that built New England. Back in the 1600s, tales of an ocean full of cod lured the pilgrims to Plymouth Rock. But after centuries of good catches, nets started to come up light in the 1980s. The federal government kicked foreign fleets out of American fishing grounds. And by the mid-’90s, regulators closed areas of the ocean to American fishermen, too. Some areas are still closed because regulators believe cod never rebounded from overfishing. But new research from Kevin Stokesbury, a professor of fishery science at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, is challenging that claim.

KEVIN STOKESBURY: For the first time in about 20 years, we have seen and are tracking a successful year class of cod. And they seem to be growing at a very good rate.

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