New research suggests the stock of northern Atlantic cod continues to trend upward. Photo by Laura Wheeland/George Rose
ST. JOHN'S, Newfoundland, Oct. 27 (UPI) -- With so many stories of imminent ecological collapse, mass extinctions and dwindling biodiversity, it's nice to get a little good news now and again.
According to researchers in Canada, the once-imperiled northern Atlantic cod is making a strong comeback. The latest numbers suggest the fish species' stock is once again nearing historical averages of several hundred thousand tons.
The latest analysis of northern Atlantic cod numbers off the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador was conducted by lead researcher George Rose, a biologist with at the Memorial University of Newfoundland's Fisheries and Marine Institute.
Numbers of northern Atlantic cod, particularly populations in the northwest off the coasts of the United States and Canada, began falling in the 1960s. Overfishing continued through the 1980s, until the fishing stock collapsed in the 1990s, bringing about stringent catch limits and concerted conservation efforts.
The progress has been slow but steady, and Rose's latest research -- published this week in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences -- suggests stocks that had once shrunk to as small as a few thousand tons now boast biomass totals of nearly 300,000 tons.
The species' population continues to grow at a clip of 30 percent annually, Rose calculates.
Cod are a large bottom-dwelling fish, preferring relatively cold and coarse sediment. Though they were once harvested in much greater numbers, they remain a major commercial fish stock in both Europe and North America.
Researchers say the species' rebound is thanks to a combination of factors, including the environmental conditions favorable to the fish's favorite prey species, capelin, as well as strict commercial fishing limits.
"Without a doubt, maintaining low removals of this stock over the past decades has been essential to recovery," Rose said in a press release. "While the timing of a full recovery remains uncertain, continued protection from excessive fishing remains essential to achieving that outcome."
"The critical message is that recovery can occur given harvest restraint based on science and management and recognition of the importance of the marine ecosystem, especially with respect to climate and food," added Rose. "If this stock can recover, there exists the same potential for other depleted stocks worldwide."