Are cod beginning a recovery in New England? That’s a question we’re looking at for an episode of our PBS series Saving The Ocean.
For centuries, cod were a major economic driver in New England and Atlantic Canada. They spurred settling of the New World and sent food everywhere from Europe to the Caribbean. They began to falter way back in the 1800s, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that they really crashed.
Major closures of fishing areas in the 1990s and tortuously complicated fishing restrictions since have failed to spark a cod recovery. Theories for why they weren’t recovering abounded, from their niche being replaced by dogfish (unlikely in my opinion) to too many herring eating cod eggs and cod larvae. But maybe it was simply that there were too few cod to quickly repopulate the region.
But recently, we’ve been hearing that cod are doing better in southern New England, up to about the mid-coast of Maine. So we went for a look.
With commercial rod-and-reel fisherman Ed Snell, we ventured to Jeffries Ledge, about 20 miles east of Portland Maine. In the company of whales, porpoises, shearwaters and at least one giant ocean sunfish, we dropped our lures to the bottom in 300 feet of water. Within five minutes we had a cod, and quickly had a second. Several times each of our three rods fishing was bent with a cod at once. So it seems like reports of the beginnings of a cod recovery are true. And that means, the fishing regulations may be working. And that means—there’s hope.