Improving the management of the Atlantic Cod fishery by updating stock assessments and enforcing compliance
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Management of Atlantic cod, Gadus morhua, has become increasingly stringent since the implementation of the first groundfish fishery management plan (FMP) in 1977, yet overfished stock status is evidence of ineffective management. This management relies on fish surveys and computer models to assess the stock, and various regulations to control the level of catch. This masters project investigates the assessment and management practices of the Unites States and Canada (focusing on the former) and provides practical modifications to remedy errors and improve the current Multispecies FMP. The cod stock assessment model includes two assumptions about the species: cod are nonmigratory, and cod natural mortality has remained the same since its last evaluation 28 years ago. I present two studies that contradict the assumption that cod are non-migratory, and provide three reasons that cod natural mortality has increased: heightened competition and predation, habitat damage, and genetic modification resulting from selective harvest. To avoid the overfishing that results, I recommend that the model equation be changed to include migration frequency and utilize an increased value for the natural mortality parameter. Until necessary studies to correct the model are completed, stock assessors should add an uncertainty parameter into the equation that buffers against error resulting from inaccurate model specification. Prioritization of economic concerns, overconfidence in the effort-reduction program, and ineffective monitoring have routinely produced cod landings that surpass the target total allowable catch (TAC). Recent landings below the target TAC are due to low biomass rather than management success. I propose four recommendations to improve the management process: 1) decrease target TACs; 2) restrict trawler vessel days-at-sea and fishing areas; 3) improve monitoring; and 4) fund a fisher retraining service. The status of the Atlantic cod fishery indicates the need for a different management regime. The New England Fishery Management Council should act now to transform the cod fishery from the best example of management failure to the best example of collapsed stock recovery. The science and technology to implement these recommendations is ready and waiting.
DepartmentNicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
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