A New Beginning for Collapsed Cod Fisheries?

Photo by derekkeats | flickr.com

As the scientific community and the media alike continue to put so much focus on environmental worst-case-scenarios (that is, the so-called ‘inevitable downfall of the planet’), I present to you the beginning of a promising potential success story.

The 1993 collapse of the cod fishing industry off the East Coast of Canada is no longer recent news nor questionable to anyone.  The whole notion is actually almost as simple as it gets: our fishing practices were not sustainable.  Since its collapse, this scenario has become the textbook example of the degree to which human activity can (and in most cases, will) negatively impact the environment. 

If the disappearance of cod wasn’t bad enough, the ecosystem also changed dramatically afterwards.  Modifications occurred to the food chain once the top predator vanished – known as a trophic cascade.  The future of the Northwestern Atlantic waters was very uncertain.

Turns out it may be time for fish to make a comeback, according to researchers from Dalhousie University.  Currently, cod and haddock populations have reached numbers not seen since the early 1990s (both in terms of individual size and total population counts).  By the looks of things, this ecosystem is reverting back to its predator-dominated ways – slowly, but surely.

Of course, some differences are expected to exist between the old and new ecosystems.  For instance, haddock seems to currently be more abundant than cod, suggesting the potential for a varied dynamic of the East Coast environment.

It’s vital that the message of this research doesn’t turn into an excuse for over-exploitation.  Just because this particular ecosystem appears to be rebounding from a collapse does not mean that all other ecosystems will bounce back as successfully, if at all.  I see this as much more of a reminder of just how resilient the environment can be, and that not all biodiversity news has to be pessimistic.