Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Santa Barbara

UC Santa Barbara Previously Published Works bannerUC Santa Barbara

New England Cod Collapse and the Climate.


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.

Many UC-authored scholarly publications are freely available on this site because of the UC's open access policies. Let us know how this access is important for you.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View