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Submitted by George Elliott on Sat, 02/09/2013 - 8:11am.
Remember when cod fish was one of the most popular (and inexpensive) fish to be found, especially in the frozen fish aisle of your grocery? How about cod fish on restaurant menus? If you can find it, it’s often priced as one of the more expensive selections nowadays. What in the heck happened?
Well, North Atlantic cod stocks are today widely reported to be in "bad shape," usually meaning that there are not many fish left. However, individual codfish, typical of those caught off eastern Nova Scotia, are also visibly in very bad shape. The shape is that of starving fish.
There are some obvious tell-tale signs of the ill cod population: Besides the flattened belly profile, the cod starving in the wild also shows an unusually downed turned head and reddened mouth as it appears to struggle to survive by bottom feeding at a size when it would normally rely largely on prey fish in the water column.
A simple shortage of their normal prey appears to be the most immediate problem facing Atlantic cod, but it’s more significant that over- fishing has decimated the cod population as well, leaving many sick and dying fish left to their own devices after fishermen through them back into the sea.
The ideal fish for human consumption would be a quick maturing fish. But, that’s not the case in cod. Cod fish mature late (4-6 years old), which means the best fish for the dinner table take time to mature once eggs are produced by the females. Female cod do produce huge numbers of eggs, but the older cod produce two to three times as many. So, a healthy cod population requires a lot of older fish. Recent survey’s of cod catches in Northern Europe shows exactly the opposite. It is estimated there are some 200 million cod under a year old, but only around 18 million or so 1-3 year olds. As for older cod, it is now estimated that there are only in the hundreds in their early teen years. As a matter of fact, in 2011, not a single cod older than 13 years of age was caught. That’s in spite of the fact that cod live routinely into their late teens and 20’s.
Most of the cod being caught today are sexually immature, and the rest are just entering maturity. In other words, we have fished our way to the boundary between barely keeping the cod population sustainable. The international rules and quotas governing cod-fishing are complex and intended to help both cod and the industrial cod fishery survive. But no species can rebound when it has been stripped of its most fertile members.
Scientists are calling for a sharp reduction in next year’s North Sea cod quota — down to 25,600 tons from 32,000 tons this year. Even this lower quota may be too high, aimed more at protecting fishermen than protecting cod.
So, there is another example that hits home of how letting industry and human demand dictate the future of our environment without proper and well planned long-term management. There’s only so much to go around, and although nature is tough and strives to survive, the fact is, we’ve lost literally thousands of species across the globe over the years. And, by the way, where not just talking about potential food sources, who knows how many species are gone forever that might have held the cure myriad diseases.
By: George Elliott