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REVIEW
Year : 2015  |  Volume : 13  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 414-425

Spatial and Temporal Patterns in the Cod Fisheries of the North Atlantic


School of Marine Sciences, University of Maine, Orono, ME, USA

Correspondence Address:
Anne Hayden
School of Marine Sciences, University of Maine, Orono, ME
USA
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/0972-4923.179878

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Date of Web Publication8-Apr-2016
 

   Abstract 

Atlantic Cod Gadus morhua has been subject to commercial exploitation since the thirteenth century. An analysis of cod fisheries over space and time reveals a pattern of serial depletion that reflects the cross-scale interaction of fish population structure, economic incentives, developments in fishing technology, and government efforts to limit access to fishing areas. Three case studies from Newfoundland and Labrador, the larger Northwest Atlantic, and the Gulf of Maine illustrate a pattern of fish population depletion followed by expansion of fishing activity that repeats at a range of scales. The meta-population structure of cod populations allows overharvesting, even when strict but broadscale controls are in place. The results argue for the reform of fisheries management to incorporate governance that more closely reflects the scale of the local components of metapopulations.

Keywords: fisheries management, metapopulations, socioecological systems, cod, north Atlantic


How to cite this article:
Hayden A, Acheson J, Kersula M, Wilson J. Spatial and Temporal Patterns in the Cod Fisheries of the North Atlantic. Conservat Soc 2015;13:414-25

How to cite this URL:
Hayden A, Acheson J, Kersula M, Wilson J. Spatial and Temporal Patterns in the Cod Fisheries of the North Atlantic. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2015 [cited 2019 Nov 18];13:414-25. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2015/13/4/414/179878


   Overview Top


Atlantic Cod Gadus morhua, once supporting one of the world's most prolific fisheries, occurs at a fraction of its former abundance. Cod is not an isolated example, marine fisheries globally have declined dramatically (Garcia and Newton 1997; Srinivasan et al. 2012; Worm and Branch 2012; Watson et al. 2013). Even though most marine fisheries have been under scientific management for decades, efforts to manage them have not met with notable success. This lack of success implies that the various theories developed to understand the factors influencing the size of fish populations and management are flawed (Keith and Hutchings 2012; Vert-pre et al. 2013). Stock/recruitment models in biology, rational choice theory in the social sciences, and adaptive management from ecology have all been applied to understand problems in marine resource management, but unless combined with insights gained from history, they are insufficient to explain the current state of depletion of cod fisheries or the rest of the North Atlantic groundfishery.

In this article we describe the history of the cod fishery in the North Atlantic, with a view toward describing factors and patterns of events leading up to its decline. Our goal is to develop another view of why fisheries fail based on the idea of fisheries as a complex, coupled, natural and human system; and to suggest an alternative, coupled natural and human systems strategy for sustaining fish populations and their associated fisheries.

The history of Atlantic Cod and its fisheries is largely one of serial depletion of subpopulations, resulting in the loss of ecological memory of locations appropriate to the species' life history, e.g., spawning areas, nursery grounds and other useful habitat, and to population collapse. Given sufficient demand, fishing effort on a local subpopulation increases, the subpopulation becomes depleted and patchier, and fishermen's search more expensive and less successful. Economic incentives lead some fishermen to expand their fishing range beyond the local subpopulation, using a roving-bandit strategy to fish among several local subpopulations (Berkes 2006; Wilson 2006). The depletion of subpopulations continues, resulting in broadscale collapse. Fishing activity expands to target less exploited populations, and it leads to the development of vessels and gear capable of harvesting populations further from port. As depletion proceeds and conflicts between fleets from different regions emerge, authorities establish boundaries to privilege local fishing interests, a process that results in new rounds of depletion at a finer scale and pushes roving bandits to find new places to fish. Across the range of Atlantic Cod, patterns of serial depletion have emerged that reflect the cross-scale interaction of fish population structure, economic incentives, developments in fishing technology, and government efforts to limit access to fishing areas. The current study represents a socioecological analysis of the Atlantic Cod and its fisheries over the past several hundred years. Consideration of both social and ecological factors provides insights into understanding the depletion of cod populations that are not clear from the analysis of either factor alone.

Fishermen first began hunting cod for the purposes of trade in Europe as early as the thirteenth century (Barrett et al. 2011). Different fishing communities pursued cod locally in many areas; some expanded their fishing activity regionally, reaching the Northwest Atlantic in the fifteenth century (Rose 2007). Though global populations are much diminished from historic levels, commercial harvesting continues today. Several factors explain the long-standing popularity of cod as a commercial target. First, throughout much of the history of its fishery, cod were extremely abundant. Unlike warmer waters of the mid-latitudes, which, as a rule, support greater diversity of species but lower abundance of any one species, the colder waters of the North Atlantic support fewer species, many exhibiting tremendous abundance (Rose 2007). Second, cod is relatively easy to preserve, a characteristic critical to its value as a commodity. Demand for cod over the past several hundred years, a function of population growth, religious dictates and cultural preference, has lead to exploitation throughout its range in the North Atlantic—from the Bay of Biscay in the east to the mid-Atlantic bight in the west. The story of the cod fishery presents an unusual opportunity for socioecological analysis of the interaction of exploitation and species dynamics at a series of temporal and spatial scales.

Management theory

The dominant contemporary paradigm of fisheries management is based on bioeconomic theory articulated in the 1950s. As exemplified by the Gordon-Schaefer curve (Gordon 1954), this theory is based on deterministic models of fisheries production and simple profit seeking by fishers. Such models describe a relationship between population size and recruitment of juveniles into the population; over time, however, these models have grown increasingly complicated as factors such as the age structure of the population and assumptions regarding fishing mortality were incorporated in the hopes of finding a functional relationship. In practice, it has proved difficult to document such relationships empirically (Beverton 1998; Longhurst 2010). Nevertheless, we have managed fish populations as if stock-recruitment relationships exist, and as if such relationships are the critical determinant of sustainability.

Generally, management has assumed that the demographically relevant range of cod and other fish populations is broad, encompassing large areas, such as the entire Gulf of Maine. However, a growing body of scientific evidence shows that cod (and probably most other fish populations) occur in loosely connected hierarchies of populations known as metapopulations (Smedbol and Wroblewski 2002; Kritzer and Sale 2004; Kritzer and Sale 2006; Wright et al. 2006). A metapopulation consists of a number of subpopulations that tend to be reproductively isolated, especially in the short run. In evolutionary time, this kind of population structure allows a species to adapt to local oceanographic and ecological circumstances, reducing its vulnerability to drastic, broadscale change, at the same time, giving it the ability to repopulate local areas, in which the species has been extirpated. The metapopulation structure of cod, most likely, consists of weakly connected local demographic units arranged in a multi-scale hierarchy of subpopulations that reflect, at the largest scale, nearly geographically isolated areas, such as the Newfoundland Banks, Barents Sea and North Sea, and at a much smaller scale, local regions and embayments (Ruzzante et al. 1999; Ames 2004). Patchiness also occurs within the range of subpopulations although these patches may have little demographic relevance. Recent advances in genetic analyses reveal divisions within populations of cod once considered panmictic; such differences are evident among subpopulations at a large-scale across the range of the species, but also at much finer scales, e.g., within an area 300 km in length (Hauser and Carvalho 2008). Areas once thought to support homogeneous cod populations, such as the Gulf of Maine and the banks off Newfoundland and Labrador, are now recognized to have more complex population structures.

From a scientific perspective, this population structure calls into question the fundamental logic of broadscale management based on the idea that sustainability is driven principally by a stock-recruitment dynamic. From the fisher's perspective, a metapopulation structure represents a series of patches, or search targets, going from a very broad to a very fine scale. As we discuss later in this paper, this multi-scale patchiness creates strong incentives for overfishing, even with stringent broadscale controls.

Implementation of fisheries management programmes across the North Atlantic in the second half of the twentieth century reflected the understanding of fish population structure at the time. Fish populations were thought to be panmictic across broad geographic areas. Management programmes focused then, and continue to focus now, on reductions in fishing effort as averaged across a large area. Reductions in harvests are sought through input controls—limits on fishing effort, or output controls—limits on landings. Such programmes do not take into account that fishing exploits the tendency of fish to form dense aggregations that reduce search costs and make fishing gear such as trawls economically feasible (Ames 1997; Wilson et al. 2012). Actual effort and catch, of course, is not averaged across a management area, but is concentrated on aggregations of fish. Broad controls on harvesting do not protect local populations and consequently, do not prevent the sequential overfishing of local populations. As subpopulations have been extirpated, the viability of the metapopulations, of which they are a part, become compromised, a process that has resulted in the crash of one cod population after another. The persistent, depleted state of most cod populations throughout the North Atlantic is evidence that the current fisheries management paradigm has not worked to protect either fish populations or the economic activity derived from fishing.

This paper describes a different theoretical approach to the understanding of human-ecological interactions, one that could lead to a more effective approach to fisheries management (Wilson 2006). We view the natural system as one which is patchy in space and time, and at multiple scales. This patchiness creates regularities that reflect the adaptive behaviour of the many species of fish and the essential self-organized structure of the system. Its regularities make it possible for fishermen to learn about the natural system and, at the same time, makes it economical to search for fish and harvest fish. Especially important, it makes it possible for humans to hunt down and deplete local, demographically relevant components of broadscale populations. In short, fishing tends to unravel the natural order of the ocean system, patch by patch, leading to overharvesting and a tragic social dilemma. The cod fisheries are a particularly clear and important example of the problem.

According to Ostrom (1990), establishing the boundaries of common pool resources, such as fish populations, and specifying those who are allowed access to such resources, is a prerequisite for collective action that results in effective management. Boundaries and associated rules regarding participation in resource use are most effective when designed such that resource users live near each other, are interested in the long-term sustainability of the resource, are willing to enforce harvesting rules, and are trustworthy. Consequently, the analysis of the interaction of social systems (human aggregations) with groups of cod (fish aggregations) involves an understanding of self-organization, in both, social and ecological systems. Key to this analysis is knowledge of the scale at which the fish aggregate, and the scale at which fishing occurs. When fishing activity is limited by available technology or administrative boundaries to a scale that matches the scale of cod subpopulations, fishing generates feedback that can give a relatively accurate picture of the effects of fishing. This feedback does not assure, but certainly increases, the chances for successfully collective action that can restrain overharvesting (Wilson et al. 2013). Absent such spatial and technological limitations, and given a growing market for fish, fishers generally expand the spatial extent of their fishing without regard to the demographically relevant scale of the affected populations. As the scale of fishing expands, feedback regarding its effects upon smaller-scale fish aggregations is attenuated or lost, and the serial extirpation of aggregations results. As is evident in the long history of the cod fisheries, the expansion of fishing is repeated until local aggregations of fish over a broad range are decimated, cumulating with the broadscale collapses whose recent history is so vivid. We argue that this coupled, multi-scale, natural and human system approach to understanding the effect of fishing presents opportunities for developing newer models of fisheries management that incorporate social phenomena, in particular learning and adaptation, and emphasize the importance of matching the scale of restraints on fishing with the demographically relevant scale of targeted populations.

Analysis of the history of cod fishing in the North Atlantic has revealed three major drivers in the dynamics of cod fisheries over space and time: 1) persistent and increasing market demand for cod; 2) development of harvesting and product storage technologies that allowed for exploitation of virtually every cod population; and 3) the imposition of territorial boundaries as constraints on fishers' mobility. Given the metapopulation structure of cod populations, the impact of these drivers on the behaviour of fishers has resulted in a consistent pattern of serial depletion that occurs in a similar pattern at both broad and finer scales—what might be called a socioecological fractal.


   Incentives for Exploitation Top


Fishing behaviour is driven by economic and social incentives, and given shape by the social and natural environments, within which fishing occurs. As human populations and the scale of markets increase, demands for quantity, quality and stability of supply create incentives for increasing scales of fishing in the face of increasing patchiness in the resource. Greater mobility and fishing capacity also require greater investment, which leads to a split between (usually) company-owned vessels pursuing a broader scale mobile strategy, and smaller scale, less capital intensive, inshore vessels owned by captains or small companies. These smaller vessels may pursue different fisheries according to what is locally abundant by season. Differences arising from type of ownership, various traditions and other institutional factors, including the implementation of boundaries and regulations, result in more diverse patterns in fishing behaviour than might be expected if fishers were assumed to be homogeneous in capabilities and history.

Fishing was long carried out as a subsistence activity. The advent of methods for preserving fish allowed for their use in trade. Growing human populations and Catholic edicts against eating meat many days a year made for increasing demand for piscine flesh during the early Middle Ages (Fagan 2006; Roberts 2007; Barrett et al. 2011), and demand for cod has remained strong ever since. Demand created incentive for increased effort and adoption of more intensive fishing practices. Other important strategies for increasing harvests were to expand the area fished, to allow for fishing on several populations during one trip, fishing on unexploited populations, and fishing on larger populations, often found on offshore banks. The decline in abundance of local populations created further incentive for fishing at a larger scale but still nearby. As harvests in nearby stocks also declined, vessels were forced to go further afield in search of cod. By the fourteenth century, the legendary fishing grounds of the North Sea were in decline and the British, French, and the Dutch began to seek richer fishing grounds further afield, first in Norway and Iceland, and then on the Grand Banks (Roberts 2007; Bolster 2008, 2012).

In the Gulf of Maine and elsewhere, a dichotomy of fishing behaviours has prevailed throughout history—smaller vessels take advantage of seasonally abundant populations when they are present locally, while the vessels of larger commercial ventures seek the best return on capital, searching out higher abundance and/or higher value of populations further offshore, higher abundance offsetting the higher costs of travel (Goode 1887; Ackerman 1941; Alexander et al. 2009). The pattern of inshore and offshore fishing is a reflection of an ideal free distribution of fishing effort, whereby fishers distribute themselves among patchy resources in a way that tends to equalize profits at the various scales, with a division of effort based principally on access to capital, the abundance, seasonality and patchiness of fish, and the availability of alternative economic opportunities. It is reinforced by the greater seasonal variability of inshore stocks. Inshore fishermen compensate by diversifying their fishing activity and balancing it with shoreside work. Offshore fishermen continue fishing by searching for other subpopulations on which to fish.

Changes in mobility and fishing capacity can also occur in response to economic incentives created by regulations. Many countries provided bounties to cod fishermen, in part, to ensure a source of able-bodied seamen. For example, from 1792 to 1866, the US Congress passed a nearly continuous series of bounty laws that provided boats in New England's cod fishery, with subsidies, if they could meet certain standards (O'Leary 1996). More than a century later, small boat fishermen in post-EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) New England increased their scale of fishing partly in response to what might be termed regulatory incentives. Investments in newer, larger vessels were encouraged by favourable government loan and tax programmes to promote increased fishing capacity; the yearly, then quarterly, race for quota created by initial efforts to manage populations of groundfish within the US EEZ further incentivised these investments (Acheson 1984; Apollonio and Dykstra 2008).


   Role of Technology Top


Vikings had migrated by ships to various parts of the coasts of Europe and Iceland by 870 CE, but the inadequacy of vessels confined most European maritime activities, including fishing, to inshore coastal waters until the fourteenth century (Lewis and Runyan 1990). By the fifteenth century, the seaworthiness of boats and the ability to navigate had improved to the point where fishermen were fishing in the waters of northern Europe and Iceland. Europeans began to fish in the Northwest Atlantic in the fifteenth century (Rose 2007). The ability to preserve cod allowed the distance between the source of the cod and its markets to greatly increase. The Vikings may have been the first to preserve cod by drying them in the cold, dry air of the Arctic. Once dried, cod could be kept for months. Further to the south, where salt was widely available, salting became the preferred method of preservation. By the 1840s, icing made possible the development of markets for fresh cod. In the twentieth century, the development of filleting machines and blast freezers added a final chapter to the market dominance of cod.

Two notable innovations changed fishing practices. The first, in the early eighteenth century, was the widespread use of a schooner with fore and aft sails, a type of sail configuration that proved to be especially adaptable to fishing because of its speed and manoeuvrability. The second was the introduction of dory fishing after the 1830s. That is, fishermen carried dories aboard their schooners and when they reached the fishing ground began to fish from them with one- or two-man crews, which, allowed them to exploit a wider area of ocean away from their mother ship. Dory fishing greatly increased catches (O'Leary 1996).

Over the course of the nineteenth century, the production of salt fish declined and the production of fresh fish expanded enormously. The marketing of fresh fish depended on a number of innovations. In England, the adoption of the boat well allowed live fish to be sold in all coastal areas of the country. The widespread sale of fresh fish in cities of the interior, however, had to await the development of the railroad (Roberts 2007). In the US, the switch to fresh fish was greatly facilitated by the spread of the use of ice on boats, which, had become common on Gloucester boats by 1845, and the use of domestic ice boxes, which, had become wide spread by the 1880s (O'Leary 1996).

At the end of the nineteenth century, the combined use of engines to power vessels and of trawls—large nets towed along the bottom—greatly increased fishing capacity. Steam trawlers began to appear in numbers late in the nineteenth century (Roberts 2007), and by 1900, the first schooners were being equipped with diesel and gas powered engines (McFarland 1911).

Fishing gear also changed. Although bottom trawls date from the fourteenth century (Roberts 2007), coupling them with engine-powered boats greatly increased their efficiency. In New England, groundfish were caught on hooks until 1900, but after that, an ever increasing proportion of boats were equipped with otter trawls, which, were more efficient, did not require bait, were safer than dory fishing, and could be used over more months of the year, alleviating the winter shortage of fish. This technology allowed fishermen to target spawning aggregations of cod, and other species, for the first time with devastating consequences for cod populations throughout the North Atlantic.

In the 1920s, at the same time that trawlers came on the scene in large numbers, the marketing of fish was revolutionised by the fish-filleting machine and freezing technology that allowed processors to turn out huge amounts of frozen fillets and minced fish, which, by the 1940s, came to dominate many markets (Ackerman 1941; Roberts 2007).

In 1954, the British launched the Fairtry; at 85 m and 2,642 tonnes, it had significantly more fishing capacity than the next largest vessel in the North Atlantic fleet at that time. The Fairtry, and the many others like it, that soon joined fleets from several countries, allowed large-scale commercial exploitation of the cod populations of the most northern reaches of the North Atlantic. The diversification of the industrial, distant water fleet into trawlers, factory processing vessels, transports and other support vessels ensured that fishing, and the search for abundant populations, occurred continuously (Warner 1983).

A revolution in electronics, that began at the outset of the twentieth century, reached fishing fleets in the late 1920s, when the radio-telephone, an easy to use device, had been perfected (Schroeder 1967). The development of Loran that came into widespread use in the fishing fleet in the early 1970s, and geographic positioning systems (GPS), widely adopted in the 1990s, permitted fishers to pinpoint exact locations of vessels, fishing gear, and fishing locations with ease. Other devices, based on sonar technology (i.e., white line recorders, side scanning sonar) greatly improved the ability of fishermen to find concentrations of fish in the water, particularly when combined with the increasing mobility of the fleet.

For several decades the use of otter trawls was limited to smooth bottom (i.e., sand, mud, gravel), allowing fish to use ledges and rocky bottom as a sanctuary. In the mid-twentieth century, the advent of monofilament gillnets allowed for fishing on rocky bottom. Later, the addition of rollers to the ground lines of otter trawls permitted them to pass over rocks. These innovations, allowed fishermen to exploit fish on all kinds of bottom, increased the area that could be searched for fish, and greatly reduced the amount of area that had served as de facto fish refuges.


   The Role of Administrative Boundaries Top


In 1609, the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius wrote in Mare Liberum (=the freedom of the sea) that the seas are free to all, especially in terms of international rights to navigation and trade. This work intended to prove that Portuguese claims to sovereignty in the East Indies were null, and the Dutch could navigate and trade freely. In terms of fisheries, “the principle applicable in regard to navigation—namely, that the activity in question shall remain open to all—should also be applied in connection with fishing” (Feenstra 2009: 23). Fish were res nullius (= the property of none), until caught (Feenstra 2009).

The English juror John Selden produced the contrasting Mare Clausum (=closed sea) claiming the sovereign right of the King of England, especially to the waters south and east of England. Though finished in 1618, it was not immediately published, because King James I of England was in debt to the King of Denmark and feared displeasing him (Fletcher 1933). With tensions flaring over the Dutch monopolization of the herring fisheries in the North Sea, the Dutch republished Grotius' work, and, in response, King Charles ordered Selden's work published (Fletcher 1933). Nearly a century later, the concept of a three-mile limit to a state's waters was defined in Cornelius van Bynkershoek's De Dominio Maris Dissertatio (= dissertation on the ownership of the sea). Enforcement of marine law was then, as it is now, the key issue in creating meaningful edicts. In De Dominio Maris, Bynkershoek (1923: 44) states, “I should have to say in general terms that the control from the land ends where the power of men's weapons ends; it is this...that guarantees possession”.

The power of human weapons has continuously increased, but relatively recently, the three-mile (approximately 4.83 km) coastal boundary has been expanded. The expansion of distant water fleets after World War II (WWII) led to an international effort to protect fisheries by expanding state sovereignty over adjacent marine waters. In 1958, when the first United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) failed to produce an agreement, Iceland unilaterally established its own boundary, declaring a 12-mile exclusive fishing zone, which, they managed to enforce not with firepower, but by cutting the cables English trawlers used to tow their nets. They, then, extended this line out to 50 miles in 1972, and 200 miles in 1976 (Kurien 2000). Most nations in the North Atlantic followed suit within a year. The 1982 UNCLOS reached agreement on the EEZ, which, granted coastal states exclusive access to resources of the seabed and overlying waters from the shore out to 200 miles (Reed 2008).

The 200-mile limit is not the only line in the water that has affected cod fishing. Coastal states have developed a number of nested boundaries granting management rights within their EEZs, from the regional fishery management councils of the US to recognition of traditional institutions in the Lofoten island chain of Norway (Jentoft and Kristoffersen 1989). Locally defined and enforced boundaries have also been described, which, reflect varying degrees of recognition by state authority (Durrenberger and Pálsson 17).

When governments create boundaries, they often create rules that allow participation in resource-use by strangers, without a long-term commitment to the resource (Ostrom 1999). Such rules “may generate conflict and unwillingness to abide by any rules” (Ostrom 1999: 513). The history of the northern cod fisheries is replete with examples of such consequences of government boundary setting. With establishment of the 200-mile limit, coastal states generally limited fishing to their citizens, but did little to develop effective methods of domestic governance. When management was attempted it was almost always top-down, command-and-control approaches that, over the last 35 years, have proved ineffective.


   Serial Depletion at Multiple Scales: Three Case Studies Top


Analysis of cod fishing in the Northwest Atlantic reveals a pattern, occurring at multiple scales, of serial depletion of subpopulations, expansion of fishing effort, and subsequent collapse of entire populations. Three case studies, drawn from three time periods and three cod fishing regions, illustrate the cross-scale interaction of fish population structure, economic incentives, developments in fishing technology, and, in one case, government efforts to limit access to fishing areas. Each demonstrates a pattern of cod population decline that occurs as a result of the expansion of fishing activity in response to local depletion.

Labrador

In the nineteenth century, as cod subpopulations along the Newfoundland coast became increasingly depleted, fishermen turned to Labrador. As the century progressed, cod populations were sequentially depleted northward, eventually bringing the fishery to the very northern edge of Labrador.

The cod population of coastal Newfoundland and Labrador exhibits a metapopulation structure of fairly discrete, year-round, bay-scale populations, including both those, that winter within bays and in deep water nearby, migratory populations that overwinter offshore and migrate inshore seasonally to the same general areas, and populations that stay offshore (Lear 1984; Myers et al. 1997; Ruzzante et al. 1999; Green and Wroblewski 2000; Robichaud and Rose 2004). Each component may form a more demographically closed component than had previously been assumed (Bradbury et al. 2008; Hauser and Carvalho 2008).

The population of coastal Newfoundland increased during the Napoleonic era, circa 1810–1815, partially as a result of a temporary monopoly on the salt cod market. Local populations of cod could not support the growing pressure from increasing numbers of inshore fishermen (Cadigan and Hutchings 2001). As coastal cod populations were depleted, the Labrador cod fishery and the seal fishery became important alternative sources of income (Cadigan and Hutchings 2001).

From 1806 to 1820, cod landings, primarily from southern Labrador, increased from roughly 4,904–6,161 Mg live weight to 26,664–33,501 Mg live weight (as estimated using the method for converting quintal to live weight described by Alexander et al. (2009)) (Cadigan and Hutchings 2001). As the century progressed, fishermen continued ever further northwards in search of better catches (Cadigan and Hutchings 2001). Throughout this period, the local populations targeted by the inshore fishery in Newfoundland regularly failed (Cadigan and Hutchings 2001). Turning to Labrador, the fishery sequentially depleted cod subpopulations along the coast up to its northernmost reaches.

Much of the Labrador fishery was carried out by a new class of vessels, larger than those employed in the inshore cod fishery, but smaller than those used in the seal fishery. With local cod populations in decline, inshore Newfoundland fishermen took advantage of government subsidies for shipbuilding and constructed 'jacks', double-masted, schooner-rigged vessels of around 20 tons that could make the journey to Labrador and back (Cadigan and Hutchings 2001). As Labrador cod populations became increasingly patchy, it was more advantageous to pursue a mobile strategy. Fishermen who pursued a mobile strategy were known as 'floaters', and were often well served by using the flexible jacks (Cadigan and Hutchings 2001).

As the nineteenth century began, fishing companies from New England pursued cod along the Labrador coast. Many schooners, small in size relative to those of the Grand Bank fleets, took advantage of the large supply of small cod, combined with the security of the coastal fishery. The Labrador fishery was an option for smaller Maine companies as the boats required less investment, while a mobile strategy in response to patchiness in cod populations was still possible. By the 1850s, even with some boats bringing in 92,000 cod in a season, the Labrador grounds were abandoned by Maine fishermen responding to the better market for larger Grand Banks cod (O'Leary 1996).

As local cod populations declined along the Newfoundland and Labrador coasts, catches were boosted temporarily by increases in the intensity of harvesting technology. Bultows (long lines) and seine nets were introduced in the 1840s, gillnets in the 1860s, and the cod trap in the 1870s (Cadigan and Hutchings 2001). Each new technology led to another round of serial depletions. By the turn of the century, the inshore Labrador fishery had dwindled to a few far-ranging floaters whose cod traps yielded many small fish (Cadigan and Hutchings 2001). Small cod cure poorly (Fagan 2006), and the added detriments of Labrador's damp weather and extended storage in salt bulk did not improve the quality of the final product (Cadigan and Hutchings 2001). Markets for the good suffered accordingly.

The nineteenth-century Newfoundland and Labrador coastal cod fisheries provide an acute example of fisheries expansion propelled by the serial depletion of cod subpopulations. Increased harvesting activity led initially to a decrease in the stability of Newfoundland's inshore populations. Government subsidies and inshore cod population failures provided incentive to fishermen to acquire larger vessels and travel to Labrador to fish. As the subpopulations off Labrador were fished down, some fishermen pushed northward to exploit unfished subpopulations. Others continued to fish locally, an example of the dynamic balance between local and roving exploitation that characterizes cod fisheries throughout the North Atlantic.

Larger Northwest Atlantic

In the Northwest Atlantic, the last 70 years has seen groundfish catches go from all time highs to disastrously low levels. A new round of technological advances occurred in the twentieth century that allowed large and previously unfished populations in the deeper and colder waters of the North Atlantic to be exploited. After WWII, fishing fleets of countries exploiting the Northwest Atlantic expanded greatly, putting far more pressure on cod populations with highly mechanized and mobile fleets of vessels operating out of ports in northern Europe. Most notable was the appearance of fleets of Western rig stern trawlers that delivered product to huge factory ships capable of filleting and freezing catches of fish at sea (Acheson 1984; Lear 1998). This development of industrial-scale fishing first resulted in dramatic increases in catch as both existing and new fishing grounds in Labrador and Iceland and in the Norwegian and Barents seas were exploited. Cod landings on both sides of the Atlantic peaked in the late 1960s.

The International Convention for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries came into force in 1951 for the purposes of “investigation, protection and conservation of the fishery” (Halliday and Pinhorn 1990: 4). Data collected under the terms of the Convention reveal the dramatic increase in industrial-scale fishing in the convention area ([Figure 1]), which, began with the launch of the Fairtry in 1954. In 1959, 37 vessels as large as or larger than the Fairtry were fishing in the Convention area; that number increased to 100 in 1962, before peaking at 236 in 1971. A primary focus for some of these vessels, at least initially, was herring or redfish, but cod were also an important target (Armstrong 1966).
Figure 1: Number of vessels fishing in ICNAF area, 1953–1977, by vessel size class

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In regions with greater historical participation in fishing, such as Norway, Iceland, England, Spain and Portugal, the expansion of fishing activity to an industrial scale in the twentieth century was built on knowledge and experience accrued during countless generations' participation in fishing. The opportunity to fish at an industrial scale brought new entrants, with little fishing experience, into the cod fisheries of the North Atlantic, in particular the then Soviet Union, and its satellite states. The Soviet fishing industry was launched shortly after the revolution in 1917 as a collective enterprise designed to reverse food shortages in the new nation. Investments in industrial fish production were motivated by the value of fish products relative to other foodstuffs rather than by a potential return on investment. However, the protein requirements of the populace and resulting competitive rewards from the government for increased production provided incentive for the crews of Soviet fishing vessels to maximize production. The relative efficiency of fishing compared to agricultural production resulted in a rapid build up in the Soviet fishing fleet after WWII; by 1952, Murmansk was the leading fishing port in the World (Armstrong 1966). By 1959, the Soviets had deployed 35 Pushkin-class vessels, modelled on the Fairtry, in the Convention area; by 1968, the number was 61 large vessels along with 354 smaller vessels.

Unlike fleets participating in international markets for cod, where companies, and captains within the same company, freely competed with each other to land the most fish, the Soviets applied a systematic approach to the harvest of fish in the Northwest Atlantic. First, the vessels in their distant water fleet were specialized according to the various tasks required to catch, process, and land fish products. Fishing activity within a fleet was coordinated by shore-based managers who provided a coordinated plan for fishing, in which, vessels towed their nets across a fishing ground in a staggered line. Very large areas were swept in this way, a process that both compensated for lack of information about unfamiliar fishing grounds, and ensured that any fish in the area would be harvested. The use of transport vessels to deliver fish products back to the erstwhile Soviet Union allowed continuous fishing (Armstrong, 1966; Warner 13).

In the post–WWII period, effort expanded dramatically in the deeper, colder waters off Labrador, Greenland, Norway and Russia. Fishing in the Northwest Atlantic allowed fishing fleets from Europe and the then Soviet Union to offset a decline in landings in the Northeast Atlantic that began in 1956. As industrial-scale fishing took hold, cod landings in both regions increased dramatically, reaching a peak in 1968. The then Soviet Union and its satellite nations were a major driver of this expansion, accounting for approximately one-third of cod landings from both, the Northwest Atlantic and the North Atlantic. Landings from the Convention area and the North Atlantic declined after 1968.

The scale of exploitation by distant water fleets led to the erection of barriers to foreign fishing in the 1970s, and the initiation of UNCLOS. As a result, the largest fishing vessels had to become even more mobile to harvest from the disparate few patches that were not yet off limits. Distant water fleets turned either to the small pockets of continental shelf outside of the 200-mile limit (Rose 2007), harvested largely unmarketable species from the abyssal depths of the still mostly unregulated high seas (Roberts 2007), or made agreements with developing countries to 'help' them to achieve the maximum sustainable yield they are required to reach under UNCLOS (Van Dyke 2008).

After claiming jurisdiction over fisheries within 200 miles of the coast in 1977, Canadian fishing vessels continued to fish the cod populations in the area. In 1976, catches had fallen precipitously. They recovered somewhat for a few years, only to crash in 1989 (Lear 1998). The cause was overexploitation from a fleet of large trawlers built by the Government of Canada in response to overly optimistic population assessments by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada (Finlayson 1994). In 1992, a moratorium was declared on the Canadian cod fishery. However, by 2011, the population had still not recovered. Populations of cod remained very low except for two near shore populations, which, experienced moderate recovery (Lear 1998).

The development and expansion of industrial scale fishing in the North Atlantic resulted in the exploitation of a natural resource at a level that must rank among the most dramatic examples of wild harvest in the history of human civilization. The nearly continuous expansion of cod fishing activity over the previous several hundred years came to end. The devastation of cod populations in the Northwest Atlantic was nearly absolute, leaving only remnant populations. Technological developments had allowed cod fishing to reach a point, at which, further expansion was not possible; all available populations of any size had been exploited. Lack of new populations to exploit forced the industrial fleet to leave the fishery in search of other species.

New England

In the late twentieth century, after the imposition of administrative boundaries that prevented foreign fishing within the US EEZ, cod populations in New England were further depleted by expansion of coastal fishing activity.

Cod fishing was a mainstay of the economy of the earliest settlements in New England, and has been important throughout its history. Cod fishing in New England took two forms; a smaller-scale fishery pursued the relatively small populations of cod when seasonally available inshore, and a larger-scale fishery focused on the larger populations of the offshore waters. By the later part of the seventeenth century, fishing dwarfed all other maritime industries in New England. Shortly after, New England fishermen began fishing on the Grand Banks, in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and in Labrador (McFarland 1911; O'Leary 1996; Lear 1998).

New England's cod fishery reached its peak between 1840 and 1865 (O'Leary 1996). At the end of the nineteenth century, cod catches increased with the advent of vessels with increased range and the beam trawls; populations soon declined again. Landings rose again in the twentieth century with the revolution in fishing technologies. In the 1960s, catch per unit effort declined in the offshore fisheries of the Northwest Atlantic, and the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank were invaded by a large fleet of foreign trawlers and factory ships that quickly overexploited populations of cod and other species (Playfair 2003). By 1972, the groundfish populations in the Gulf of Maine and on Georges Bank were so depleted that the foreign fleets left the region (Acheson 1984).

The establishment of the American EEZ led to a third phase of cod population depletion due to the rapid expansion of the American fishing fleet during the late 1970s and early 1980s. There was an estimated 50% increase in vessel tonnage in the groundfishery between 1977 and 1978, as fishermen who had previously fished inshore traded up in vessel size to allow them to exploit what remained of the cod populations in the deeper waters of the Gulf of Maine (Apollonio and Dykstra 2008). In 1977, 1,200 licenses were issued; in 1979, the number had increased to 2,191—almost an 83% increase in two years (Acheson 1984). Moreover, the boats entering the fishery were substantially larger, better equipped, and more versatile than those they replaced. These changes in the fleet have been described in some detail by Acheson (1984).

The expansion of the fleet was stimulated by four different factors. First, the price of fish was high (Doeringer et al. 1986), and capital became available for new boats and equipment when the Government of the United States established two loan programmes (i.e., the Capital Construction Fund and the Fishing Vessel Loan Guarantee Program) (Apollonio and Dykstra 2008). Second, the New England Fishery Management Council's (NEFMC) first management plan, in place from 1977 to 1979, created a quota race. The plan set a maximum sustainable yield for a three-month period. When that amount of fish was caught, fishing was halted. The largest and best-equipped vessels did best because they could get out in stormy winter weather when smaller vessels were confined to port. When this became apparent, many fishermen began to invest in larger, better-equipped boats. Third, changes in the international boundary also increased fishing pressure. When the US and Canada extended jurisdiction out to 322 km, the Gulf of Maine was claimed by both countries. In 1984, the International Court in The Hague drew a new international boundary that excluded American fishermen from parts of the Gulf of Maine, including the northeast peak of Georges Bank. This forced many large vessels to crowd into the inshore waters of the Gulf of Maine. Within two years, these boats and the small boats of the inshore fleet had considerably reduced the remaining populations of groundfish. After this, many of the largest vessels went to distant locations and never returned to New England waters. The remaining fleet reflected an inshore, small-vessel diverse fishery and an offshore larger-vessel fishery that hunted down aggregations of cod and other groundfish wherever they could be found within the US EEZ. Fourth, from the late 1970s to 1988, populations became increasingly patchy as overfishing increased. Vessels had to fish in waters further from their home harbours, and they had to fish for more hours and over a bigger area to get the same amount of fish. This necessitated using larger boats that could stay at sea for several days at a time. Many smaller boats simply left the fishery.

New England catches of cod varied considerably from 1960 to the present ([Figure 2]). Catches were high in the mid-1960s; then they fell as populations were overfished by the foreign fleets. Landings rebounded again in the late 1970s and early 1980s due to the entry of new and better-equipped vessels into the New England fleet and the return to New England of American vessels that had previously fished in Canadian waters. The high landings of the early 1980s were followed by a severe decline as populations became overfished; cod landings declined by 50% between 1982 and 1987. Landings improved slightly, perhaps related to the departure of the largest vessels in the mid-1980s, but declined again dramatically beginning in 1990. Cod landings reached the lowest in 1995, and have remained low despite a variety of attempts by NEFMC and the National Marine Fisheries Service (under pressure from the environmental community through law suits and amendments to the Magnuson Act) to revive them (Acheson and Gardner 2011). In 2005, the US portion of the Gulf of Maine (including the Georges Bank) produced far fewer commercial landings of cod than Frenchman's Bay, an area of a several hundred square kilometres in eastern Maine, produced in the 1860s (Alexander et al. 2009). After a series of draconian measures were promulgated, in the 1990s and early 2000s, it appeared that cod populations were no longer declining. But in the fall of 2011, a stock assessment showed that cod populations have continued to decline. Spawning stock biomass is currently approximately 3-4% of peak levels since 1976 (NMFS 2006, Palmer 2014). In short, cod and groundfish populations in New England are in worse shape today than they were when management began in 1976 (Apollonio and Dykstra 2008; Acheson 2011).
Figure 2: Cod landings in New England, 1960–2005 (NMFS 2006)

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Cod landings in the Northwest Atlantic remain very low. Those in the Northeast Atlantic are higher reflecting the fact that four of the five largest cod-producing grounds are in that region ([Figure 3]).
Figure 3: Cod landings for Northeast and Northwest Atlantic (FAO 2013)

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Imposition of EEZs drove the distant water fleet from New England's shores but put new pressure on the remaining populations of cod as American fishermen, banned from fishing in Canadian waters, focused their efforts in the Gulf of Maine and on Georges Bank. Many inshore fishermen bought bigger boats and expanded their fishing activity to take advantage of the vacuum left by the distant water fleet. The federalization of fisheries management has not prevented the continuing decline of New England's cod populations.


   Conclusion Top


For the several hundred years of early commercial cod fishing, cod harvests were limited by the ability of fishermen to catch and preserve fish. Although there were local depletions, the largest populations, in northern waters, were untouched. With technological advancement in the early twentieth century, the huge populations of cod, once found off the coast of Canada, from the Grand Banks north towards Greenland, were overharvested. Implementation of very broad administrative boundaries in the late twentieth century did not prevent a second round of local- and regional-scale depletions. As illustrated by case studies in the Northwest Atlantic, the depletion of smaller-scale populations and expansion of fishing effort occurred at various spatial scales and over various periods of time from the outset of commercial cod fishing, and it can be described as a series of socioecological fractals.

The development of administrative boundaries reflects a continuing conversation between commercial interests in trade and natural resources, such as fisheries and the governments that serve them. From English claims of sovereignty in the North Sea in the early 1600s to Iceland's defence of its essential fisheries resource in the twentieth century, administrative boundaries have been used to limit access to coastal waters by foreign fleets and to ensure that the economic benefits of fisheries are captured by resident fishermen. Failure to address the complexity of cod population structure within EEZs, however, has decreased the benefits of limited access and resulted in the decline of cod populations. The New England case study is but one example where limits on foreign fishing failed to protect cod stocks.

Although the interaction of economic, technological, and administrative factors has driven patterns in the exploitation of cod populations in the North Atlantic over the past several centuries, other influences have also played a role. In the Middle Ages, religious edicts regarding diet drove the market for cod to a higher level than it might otherwise have reached (Roberts 2007). Climatic warming at the end of the Little Ice Age reduced the biological productivity of cod populations (Rose 2007). Initial exploitation of Newfoundland's abundant cod populations was hampered by lack of shore area, on which to place drying racks (Rose 2007). Until the end of the nineteenth century, some nations provided subsidies to fishing vessel owners, partly because, experienced fishermen provided a ready source of naval manpower (O'Leary 1996). In the mid-twentieth century the Soviet Union developed a state-sponsored, distant water fleet driven by non-market, economic goals (Helin 1964). Throughout history, wars and other geopolitical forces have interfered with fisheries trade. For example, the American civil war disrupted the shipment of dried cod from New England to New Orleans (O'Leary 1996). Such factors have influenced cod fisheries over the centuries to some degree, but they are secondary to the interaction of market incentives, the metapopulation structure of cod populations, the development of increasingly effective fishing technology, and the imposition of administrative boundaries–an interaction that has established a repeating pattern of exploitation and expansion.

Various approaches to fisheries management are currently being practised. The population dynamicists, who dominate management efforts, rely on stock-recruitment models, which assume recruitment into the fishery is a function of fishing effort. They are interested in modelling such variables as overfishing, egg production, growth, fishing mortality, and natural mortality in an effort to define total allowable catch for an entire population. Another approach has been taken by scholars interested in adaptive or ecosystem management (Axelrod 1997; Link et al. 2011). This method involves developing explicit alternative strategies to reach management goals, using relative knowledge to reduce uncertainty and evaluate merits and limits of management strategies, and reducing management risks inherent in situ ations, in which, imperfect information is used. Neither of these approaches address our major concern—namely, changes in technology, fleet mobility, scale and the serial destruction of subpopulations. These factors, leading to the depletion of northern cod, are quite different from any of those considered by academics interested in fisheries management. Taking these factors into consideration requires a new approach to management.

Another approach has been taken by social scientists interested in describing the traits of communities that increase the probability that they will develop rules to constrain fishing effort and conserve fish populations. They have argued that small, homogenous communities, where people are highly dependent on the resource, with a good deal of interaction and social capital, are more likely to succeed in generating such rules (Ostrom 1990, 2000). The case studies described in this paper demonstrate that the ability of fishing activity to expand as local populations are depleted results in serial depletion. Absent the authority and the ability to defend their fishing grounds from fishermen outside of the community, the effectiveness of communities in constraining harvests is limited.

It is our contention that overexploitation of cod populations is primarily a problem of governance, and then, one of management strategy, wherein governance includes the development of rules restraining fishing, and the science and local ecological knowledge required to formulate those rules. According to the principle of subsidiarity, devolving authority for decision-making increases emergent solutions to issues of governance, such as collective action dilemmas. As Ostrom (2010) has argued, polycentric governance can prevent overuse of common property resources, and must be developed on site-specific basis to be effective. As applied to fisheries, such governance must engage local users in decision making and match the scale of the ecological dynamics of fish populations. The finest scale of decision-making must occur at a scale, at which, participants are able to effectively assess the status of subpopulation abundance and test management strategies for sustaining harvest levels.

The case studies we describe, make clear that demand for cod provided incentive for fishing activity, which expanded more or less continuously for several hundred years, as facilitated by a series of technological developments. The vast range of cod populations, and in some cases their enormous size, allowed for increasing harvests even as spawning populations were targeted. Even as landings declined, fishing at a broadscale prevented fishermen from recognizing their efforts as the serial depletion of subpopulations. Current understanding of the metapopulation structure of cod stocks provides a basis for polycentric governance; management of cod populations will be more effective to the degree that communities are given authority over fishing activity on subpopulations, particularly their spawning aggregations.

Just as fish populations exhibit a complex structure, comprised of a multi-level hierarchy of interconnected subpopulations, so the governance must reflect a similar interaction: decision-making bodies at the finest scale must engage with each other and with bodies at higher levels in the governance hierarchy. Such a system cannot be designed or implemented from the top down, but can be fostered by policies that allow for the emergence and ongoing adaptation of multi-scale decision-making. Such decision-making will reflect the dynamics of the local subpopulations and the impact of such dynamics on the metapopulation. Lacking an understanding of the dynamics of the local subpopulations and the consequences of their extirpation, fishermen in each of our case studies focused on expanding fishing activity. As opportunities at a broader scale became limited, by either the collapse of offshore populations or the imposition of national boundaries, they turned again to local subpopulations.

The structure of fish populations (assuming they have not been extirpated) changes only on an evolutionary scale; however, social learning allows for the continual adaptation of governance to factors affecting fish populations and fishing behaviour, such as, changes in markets and the development of new technologies. Fishing at the scale of subpopulations allows fishermen to gauge the effect of both fishing activity and conservation measures.

Defining spatial boundaries of governance to match fish populations and subpopulations is not a trivial exercise; it is complicated by our incomplete understanding of ecological dynamics of fish populations, and the fact that subpopulations exhibit a range of life history strategies that often results in their overlap in space. It is possible that the pattern of both local and roving fishing found in each of our case studies could be sustained with local fishing rules designed to protect spawning populations and roving fishing activity confined to areas without spawning activity. It is unlikely that we will ever find clear, perfect boundaries. Fish move, ecosystems overlap. The connections between the subpopulations within the Gulf of Maine are far from clear, much less so for those among the Gulf of Maine, the Grand Banks, and Labrador. This makes governance all the more important because the understanding of the fishing restraints appropriate to the finer scale ecology of local places depends upon knowledge of those places, and the ability to negotiate meaningful 'cross-boundary' restraints (Steneck and Wilson 2010).

Two of our case studies occurred before the implementation of science-based fisheries management in the late twentieth century. Our third case study, in New England, demonstrates that such management is inadequate in preventing the serial depletion of cod populations that has characterized the first several hundred years of commercial cod fishing.

Management, that matches the scale of fishing to the scale of subpopulation dynamics, and that allows fishermen to participate in making rules about harvesting, creates incentives for conservation. Licensing vessels for areas of limited size would prevent the use of a roving-bandit strategy and create an incentive for conservation. Engaging fishermen in such areas in decision-making regarding the best means of sustaining the fish populations within these areas would increase the likelihood that the resulting rules would be both, effective and subject to compliance. Linking local management, at the scale of subpopulations, in polycentric, hierarchical governance generates better feedback about the effects of fishing, allows coordination of management strategies, and protection of populations.

Analysis of the interaction of economic incentives with the heterogeneity of ocean resources, within a hierarchical, socioecological framework, suggests solutions to overharvesting that are multi-scalar, and address both, population dynamics and incentives for harvesting. With administrative boundaries that reflect the scale of cod subpopulations and limit roving-bandit strategies, such approaches may prevent overharvesting of populations in the face of increased demand or improvements in technology.[70]

 
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