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Mortality very high for Georges Bank cod.

Fishing pressure for Atlantic cod, Gadus morhua, on Georges Bank significantly intensified in 1987 resulting in the highest fishing mortality rate ever recorded for this fish stock, according to a Northeast Fisheries Center stock assessment evaluation in fall 1988. Fredric M. Serchuk, the Center scientist who conducted the evaluation, notes that, "High fishing effort is keeping cod numbers at record-low levels and minimizing the number of fish available to spawn."

The Northeast Fisheries Center is the research arm of NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service for the north-eastern United States. Serchuk is Chief of the Center's New England Offshore Fishery Resources Investigation which monitors and evaluates the status and condition of finfish and shellfish resources in the Georges Bank and Gulf of Maine regions.

Serchuk emphasizes that, "Fishing mortality in 1987 was so high that only about 30 percent of the Georges Bank cod that were alive at the beginning of 1987 survived to the beginning of 1988. Where such high fishing mortality has been maintained on cod stocks in other areas of the world, stock collapses have occurred." Serchuk characterized the status of the Georges Bank cod stock as "precarious."

Cod is important in both commercial and recreational fisheries in New England. Of the 26.6 thousand metric tons (58.6 million pounds) of cod landed by New England commercial fishermen in 1987, 19.0 thousand metric tons (42.0 million pounds) came from Georges Bank, with a landed value of about $32 million. Recreational catches in 1987 from the Georges Bank stock exceeded 2,900 metric tons (6.4 million pounds).

Recently completed analyses indicate that the spawning stock (mature fish) of Georges Bank cod is depressed and at an all-time low. For the fifth consecutive year, spawning stock size declined. At the beginning of 1988, spawning stock biomass (the aggregate weight of all spawners in the population) was only 30.9 thousand metric tons (68.1 million pounds), the lowest value in the 11 years that such statistics have been computed. The present spawning stock size is only one-third of that observed in 1980.

Northeast Fisheries Center staff estimated that the 1988 U.S. commercial catch of Georges Bank cod would be about 23.8 thousand metric tons (52.5 million pounds), about 25 percent higher than in 1987. The increased 1988 catch would result from continued record high fishing effort and from the above-average number of cod hatched in 1985 (the 1985 year class) which have/will reach a size at which they are fully vulnerable to commercial fishing operations.

At the current fishing mortality rate, however, the 1985 year class will be quickly depleted. The 1989 fishery will then primarily depend on fish hatched in 1986 and those fish hatched in 1987 that have grown large enough to be caught by commercial fishing gear. Catches in 1989 are likely to drop dramatically since the 1986 year class is a poor one. Although the 1987 year class presently appears strong, continued high fishing mortality and dependence by the fishery on young, mostly immature fish (ages 2 and 3) will prevent any rebuilding of the spawning stock from the current record-low levels.

Serchuk adds that "Cod is the predominant species landed in the U.S. Atlantic coast groundfish fishery, generally accounting for more catch, by weight, than any other species. The sharp decline in the size of the Georges Bank stock to a level well below its normal historical range is a cause for major concern with regard to the future of this valuable resource."
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Publication:Marine Fisheries Review
Date:Jan 1, 1989
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