Northern Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) are possibly making the most important comeback of any fish stock worldwide, researchers report in a new study. Dr. George Rose, head of the Fisheries Conservation Group, led a team of researchers in studying the northern Atlantic cod stock complex off Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. These areas were once thought to be home to the largest cod stocks in the world before a disastrous decline in the 1990s. Over the past decade, researchers have recorded a significant increase in cod, which suggests that population recovery is possible.
Northern Atlantic cod were once threatened by overfishing, as well as a combination of climate and habitat change. This species of cod is one of the most popular food fishes in the western world. The fish are easily recognized for their elongated hair-like structure called a "barbel" that hangs from their chin.
In their study, researchers explained that controlled fishing and environmental restoration allowed for stock rebuilding in the southern Bonavista Corridor, which is a major spawning-migration for the cod. Also, two northerly routes became increasingly populated with large, strong cod. In order to get a better sense of populations present in these areas, researchers performed acoustic-trawl surveys of the stock before and after spawning. Generally, the fish spawn between late winter months and early spring. Researchers found that cod populations have increased from tens of thousands of tons to over 200 thousand tons within the last decade. While the fish have not made a full rebound, they are on the road to success, researchers noted in a news release. (Scroll to read more...)
"The important take-away from this study is that with favorable environmental conditions, in this case the increase in capelin as a key food for this stock, and a severe reduction of fishing, even the most decimated fish stocks have the potential to recover," Dr. Rose explained in a statement. "Without a doubt, maintaining low removals of this stock over the past decades has been essential to recovery. While the timing of a full recovery remains uncertain, continued protection from excessive fishing remains essential to achieving that outcome."
Their study proves that threatened species can recover if appropriate measures are taken. This sheds light on how conservationists may be able to not only protect commercial fish in the future, but many other endangered species as well.
"If this stock can recover, there exists the same potential for other depleted stocks worldwide," Dr. Rose added.
Their findings were recently published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.
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