A Cod Comeback?

Legend has it that cod in New England was once so bountiful that you could walk across the water on their backs. Today, the once teeming fisheries of Atlantic Cod in Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine are on the verge of commercial collapse. And yet, regulation of cod and other species remains a complex web of legal jurisdiction coupled with a battle between fishery biologists. 

States regulate fisheries located exclusively within the tributaries, estuaries, and coastal waters of a single state and that extend no more than three miles from shore. Three regional marine fisheries commissions regulate fisheries that are located in waters no more than three miles offshore and that span the boundaries of more than one state. The National Marine Fisheries Service and eight regional fisheries management councils regulate fisheries located within waters from three miles to 200 miles from the U.S. coastline. For fisheries located in more than one of the above jurisdictions, regional councils are assisted by commissions in fishery management. Finally, a team of federal and state agencies with joint jurisdiction regulates species inhabiting waters within marine protected areas or National Marine Sanctuaries. The cod fishery is managed by the New England Fisheries Management Council as well as the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. 

It has been years since the phrase, "In cod we trust" rang out on the docks of New England fishing communities. However, a recent article from Yale University's Environmental Publication, Yale 360, provides an interesting juxtaposition to the beleaguered King Cod of North America.

The article spotlights the Northern Cod, a migratory species that inhabits the frigid arctic waters of the Barents Sea, north of Scandinavia. The article discusses a unique bilateral partnership between Norway and Russia that employs a suite of regulatory tools to manage the cod fishery. This partnership has managed to not only keep the fishery profitable, but also sustainable – a result thought by many to be unachievable. Daily catches top 15,000 to 25,000 pounds while annual catches top one million tons. A yield the fishing industry in New England can only dream of.

While the article does mention some policy mechanisms that have helped achieve this abundance, such as mutually agreed upon catch limits, pre-established trawling lanes for drag nets, and strict regulation of bycatch, it falls short of providing a robust list of mechanisms or even an analysis of existing tools used to achieve such abundance. Absent both, the article fails to provide policy makers in North America with a desperately needed blueprint for developing more effective programs for the cod fishery. Even with its shortcomings, the article still provides fishing communities across New England with a useful example that should provide hope that sustainable management is achievable. The Russian-Norwegian program demonstrates that when designed correctly, laws and policies managing fish stocks can simultaneously maintain healthy stocks while protecting and enhancing the economic vitality of local fishing industries.