It’s a bad time to be a fish and chips lover in New England. Rapidly warming water temperatures in the Gulf of Maine are wreaking havoc on the cod population and fishing industries, according to a report published in Science magazine.
Maine's gulf, a key fishing area that stretches from Cape Cod to Canada and touches Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire, is warming too quickly for the cod in the area. The gulf has warmed faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans, the researchers found.
Fishing managers say the area is at about 3 percent of sustainable levels and the fisheries could face even more drastic cuts to help replenish the population.
Harvesting restrictions have been in place for quite some time, but because quota plans did not take warming waters into account, they have failed to adequately preserve the population, as The Christian Science Monitor reported earlier this week.
"Rapid changes outpaced our ability to recognize and react to what was happening in the water," Andrew Pershing, the lead author of the study, told an online news conference.
"Every animal has a temperature range that they prefer. The Gulf of Maine, for cod, is really at the warm end of that," Pershing told The Associated Press. "If you warm it, you push it somewhere that's really uncomfortable."
The decline in cod populations has devastated the commercial Atlantic cod industry in New England as well as Georges Bank. In 2001, 33 million pounds of cod were caught in those areas. In 2013, less than 5 million pounds was brought ashore.
The shortage has driven the price of local cod sky high in New England and many restaurants are importing from Iceland and Norway. Other restaurants are using different kinds of fish completely.
Cod are still thriving off Canada, Greenland, and many of the Nordic countries, which is in keeping with projections that global warming might be pushing many fish species to the poles, where the water is colder.
"The Gulf of Maine cod is a wake-up call," Katherine Mills, one of the authors of the Science report, told Reuters.
Ms. Mills said it was unlikely that the Gulf of Maine region would ever recover to pre-crisis levels for cod. Experts have laid out a recovery plan for the species that is slowed by warming waters.
This report includes material from The Associated Press and Reuters.