UC Santa Barbara
New England Cod Collapse and the Climate.
- Author(s): Meng, Kyle C
- Oremus, Kimberly L
- Gaines, Steven D
- et al.
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0158487
To improve fishery management, there is an increasing need to understand the long-term consequences of natural and anthropogenic climate variability for ecological systems. New England's iconic cod populations have been in decline for several decades and have recently reached unprecedented lows. We find that 17% of the overall decline in Gulf of Maine cod biomass since 1980 can be attributed to positive phases of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). This is a consequence of three results: i) a 1-unit increase in the NAO winter index is associated with a 17% decrease in the spring biomass of age-1 cod the following year; ii) this NAO-driven decrease persists as the affected cohort matures; iii) fishing practices appear to exacerbate NAO's direct biological effect such that, since 1913, a 1-unit increase in the NAO index lowers subsequent cod catch for up to 19 years. The Georges Bank cod stock displays similar patterns. Because we statistically detect a delay between the NAO and subsequent declines in adult biomass, our findings imply that observed current NAO conditions can be used in stock forecasts, providing lead time for adaptive policy. More broadly, our approach can inform forecasting efforts for other fish populations strongly affected by natural and anthropogenic climatic variation.