Slow adaptation in the face of rapid warming leads to collapse of the Gulf of Maine cod fishery

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Science  13 Nov 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6262, pp. 809-812
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac9819


Several studies have documented fish populations changing in response to long-term warming. Over the past decade, sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Maine increased faster than 99% of the global ocean. The warming, which was related to a northward shift in the Gulf Stream and to changes in the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation and Pacific Decadal Oscillation, led to reduced recruitment and increased mortality in the region’s Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) stock. Failure to recognize the impact of warming on cod contributed to overfishing. Recovery of this fishery depends on sound management, but the size of the stock depends on future temperature conditions. The experience in the Gulf of Maine highlights the need to incorporate environmental factors into resource management.

Double jeopardy

In the best of worlds, exploited fish stocks are monitored so that harvest quotas protect the reproductive ability of the population. Climate change is likely to complicate this process substantially. Pershing et al. found that cod stocks declined continuously during intense warming in the North Atlantic. Fisheries quotas, even though they were responsibly set and followed by fishers, decreased the reproductive rate. Thus, managing fisheries in a warming world is going to be increasingly problematic.

Science, this issue p. 809

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