Counting Fish | Estimating the Gulf of Maine's Fish Population
Fishermen can also prosper by avoiding the well-known areas near the coast, where most of the Gulf of Maine’s remaining cod tend to congregate. The Acadian redfish, which resembles a small red snapper and is sometimes sold in markets as “ocean perch,” schools in the cold waters of the deep Gulf of Maine, away from other species. A major food fish in the 1950s and 1960s (and a staple of Army mess halls), it collapsed owing to overfishing in the 1970s. Now the population is fully rebuilt, but demand is light and the price is low; fishermen have been catching less than 20 percent of the available quota. Buy Acadian redfish or ocean perch when you see it, and you’ll be keeping a New England fisherman in business.
In fact, the real future of New England fishing lies in your hands, seafood lover. For centuries, we had a direct relationship with our fishermen. They brought the fish into port, and we bought it off the boats. Then seafood became an international commodity. Today, local fishermen must compete with foreign fleets and Chinese tilapia farms, selling their fish at auction for ridiculously low prices. Now some innovative organizations are working to reestablish the relationship between consumers and fishermen. Companies such as Boston’s Red’s Best let individuals order local seafood online and have it delivered straight to their doors.
The most heartening trend has been the rise of community-supported fisheries (CSFs), such as Cape Ann Fresh Catch (profiled in Yankee’s January 2013 issue), New Hampshire Community Seafood, Port Clyde Fresh Catch, and others. (For a list of local CSFs, go to: YankeeMagazine.com/more). For a fixed price, you receive a weekly delivery of fillets or whole fish (your choice) of whatever species the fishermen catch, for an eight-week season. You get the freshest fish, and the fishermen get a much higher price for their catch, letting them make a living while leaving more fish in the sea.
Fish stocks do recover. In fact, of the 44 species that received national rebuilding plans under the 1996 Sustainable Fisheries Act and on which we have sufficient data to evaluate them, two-thirds are either fully rebuilt or well on their way. The system works when overfishing is stopped. No greater example exists than Norway, which implemented strong catch limits after its own cod stocks nearly collapsed in the 1970s and 1990s. The Barents Sea is now awash in cod. In 2013, Norway raised its cod quota from 740,000 metric tons to 1 million—that’s 680 times the Gulf of Maine’s 1,470.
New England gets a mixed grade on recovery success. Cod, halibut, yellowtail flounder, and white hake continue to struggle mightily, but Acadian redfish, monkfish, and Georges Bank haddock have come back strongly, and sea scallops and lobster have never been so abundant.