University of Delaware
delware environmental institute

NSF: Warming waters contributed to collapse of New England's cod fishery

For centuries, cod were the backbone of New England's fisheries and a key species in the Gulf of Maine ecosystem. Today, cod stocks are on the verge of collapse, hovering at 3-4 percent of sustainable levels. Even painful cuts to the fishery have failed to slow this rapid decline, surprising both fishers and fisheries managers.

Now a report published this week in the journal Science links the cod collapse directly to rapid warming of ocean waters.

"Here is an explanation for why the Gulf of Maine's cod fishery has not recovered despite significantly reduced fishing," says Mike Sieracki, program director in the Division of Ocean Sciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF). "Management plans will need to incorporate climate change factors to be effective."

NSF funded the research through its Coastal SEES (Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability) Program.

Between 2004 and 2013, the Gulf of Maine warmed faster than 99 percent of the global ocean. The rapid warming was linked to changes in the position of the Gulf Stream and to climate oscillations in the Atlantic and the Pacific. These factors added to the steady pace of warming caused by global climate change.