Changing Planet

Overfishing 101: A Big Fish Story We Should Take Seriously

Read the full “Overfishing 101” series here.

Almost everyone has a friend or a relative who loves to tell the tale of the “big one” that got away. And more often than not, that fish grows larger and larger with every telling of the story. I have to admit, as an avid angler, I may have been tempted to do this a time or two. But not all fish stories are tall tales.

The accounts that older fishermen relate can be filled with valuable information for today’s anglers, scientists and managers. Indeed, these so-called “old salts” have decades of experience on the water and vivid memories of the way things used to be, and how different they are today. They are witnesses to a time when people fished without the help of GPS or fish finders, and when species that are now rare were teeming in our coastal waters.

Recently, nature writer and reporter John Nielsen visited several of these old salts, who made their living fishing for cod in the waters off New England. They told him stories of the heyday of cod, when docks were “madhouses” and fishermen formed the “million-pounds-a-month club.”

They also recalled the crash of the fishery in the early 1990s, when larger and more powerful fleets pushed cod populations to collapse. They share in the optimism of younger fishermen today, who are heartened by glimpses of a recovery, but remind us that though some populations of cod appear to be on the rise, they remain a shadow of their former selves.

Protecting cod’s breeding grounds, adhering to science-based catch limits, experimenting with selective fishing gear technologies and finding innovative ways for fishermen to increase the value of their catch through direct marketing are just a few ways we can act today to help restore this once abundant resource.

As it’s often been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, the Pew Environment Group recently put together a short video featuring the wisdom of these old timers—including historian and former cod fisherman from Stonington, Maine Ted Ames (winner of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship), as well as Mike Anderson and Fred Bennett, both retired fishermen from Chatham on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Additional resources are also available on our website www.pewenvironment.org/cod.

 

Lee Crockett joined The Pew Charitable Trusts in June 2007 as director of Federal Fisheries Policy. As Ddirector, U.S. Oceans, he led Pew’s efforts to establish policies to end overfishing and promote ecosystem-based fisheries management in the United States under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the federal law that governs ocean fish management. As director, Crockett oversees all of Pew’s U.S. fisheries campaigns. These include efforts in the Northeast, South Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, U.S. Caribbean, and the Pacific. Before joining Pew, Crockett was executive director of the Marine Fish Conservation Network, the largest national coalition dedicated exclusively to promoting the sustainable management of ocean fish. Under his leadership, the campaign helped efforts to reauthorize and strengthen the MSA. Previously, he was a fishery biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service, leading agency efforts to protect essential fish habitat. He also served as a staff member of the House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries, working on a variety of fisheries, environmental and boating safety issues. Crockett holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in biological oceanography from the University of Connecticut. Before college, he served in the U.S. Coast Guard. He’s also an avid angler who enjoys fishing the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay.
  • Mark Skinner

    We have been plundering fishing stocks world wide, fresh water or the oceans, since we began to catch fish. All of the warning signs have been obvious but we continue to pillage without replenishment or let-up.
    And one day we will have the nerve to say “We never knew”.
    When it comes to money, man is blinded in both eyes.

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