Nfld. & Labrador

U.S. cod crisis comes 20 years after Canada's moratorium

Twenty years after the federal government shut down Atlantic Canada's cod fishery, there are warning signs of another cod crisis — this one south of the border.

NOAA cuts fishermen's cod allocations by 22% in 2012

Fishing boats are shown at the Commercial Fishing Pier on Feb. 1 in Portsmouth, N.H. Fisheries regulators met in New Hampshire earlier this year to discuss how to avoid catastrophic damage to the industry after a report indicated severe overfishing of Gulf of Maine cod. (Jim Cole/Associated Press)

Twenty years after the federal government shut down Atlantic Canada's cod fishery, there are warning signs of another cod crisis — this one south of the border.

Fishermen in the Gulf of Maine continue to catch cod, even though a 2011 scientific survey showed stocks have plunged.

Reached on his boat near New Hampshire, fisherman David Goethel was in disbelief. 

"There's a disconnect between what we're seeing on the water and what that stock assessment says," said Goethel.

After the northern cod stocks collapsed two decades ago, unlike Canada, the U.S. set timelines and targets to rebuild stocks in the Gulf of Maine.

But the surprise drop in population last year forced U.S. authorities to impose cuts to quotas.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) cut fishermen's cod allocations by 22 per cent this year.

U.S. fishermen dismiss warnings

In New England, where cod is still king, fishermen are dismissing the warnings.

"I think it's overblown. Do I think it's perfect? No. I've seen a lot more cod in my life; I've seen a lot less. In the mid-1990s, there were a lot less cod than right now," said Goethel.

Surveys from 2007 showed U.S. cod stocks were well on their way to being rebuilt. Scientists are struggling to explain the discrepancy.

Peter Shelley of the Boston-based Conservation Law Society wants deeper quota cuts as a precaution.

"We would much rather see them paying the fishermen to just stop the cod fishery and give it a chance to recover than pushing it over the same cliff that happened in Newfoundland," said Shelley.

As for Goethel, he expects his cod quota will be cut again by more than half — a quantity, he said, he can catch in just two days.

Tune in to the World at Six on CBC Radio One on Monday night for more on the controversy surrounding cod science 20 years after the moratorium.

now