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Ocean Genome Legacy Newsletter
December 2012

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In This Issue
Groundfishing Grinding to a Halt
Thanks to Adopters!
Coming Soon...
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Throughout the Gulf of Maine, in the shallow waters from George's Bank up the coast to the Scotian Shelf in Canada and out to the mid-Atlantic, New England fishermen have been casting their lines and nets for over 400 years, drawing from a rich abundance of bottom feeders such as cod, haddock, hake, perch, pollock, halibut, flounder, plaice and pout.  But today, numerous trawlers remain in port and local store prices for these fish have skyrocketed.  Find out below what has happened to America's oldest industry, and what the future holds in store.

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New England Groundfishing:  An Industry in Crisis

The Gulf of Maine encompasses a large shallow marine basin that stretches along the North Atlantic coastline of the United States and Canada from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia. Sea plants and plankton thrive in its shallow nutrient rich waters (average 139m, max 366m), making this an ideal habitat for numerous species of coastal "groundfish" - those species that live and feed at the sea floor. The shallow depths and close proximity to land have long made this region a favorite for fishermen due to the ease with which fish can be caught. The promise of abundant food and ready income attracted immigrants to the New World, sustained the region economically for over a century, and brought foreign fleets into coastal waters to partake in the bounty.
Gulf of Maine Groundfishing
While cod was the fish that made New England famous in Colonial times, transition from hook-and-line to trawling nets in the mid 1800's dramatically changed not only the amount of fish landed, but the species as well, adding such fish as flounder, halibut and haddock to the catch.

Overfishing became problematic starting at about the turn of the 20th century, as steam trawlers replaced schooners. Side-loading trawlers were replaced by more efficient end-loading trawlers, and sonar and radar fish-finders came into use in the 1970's, temporarily increasing catch while decimating populations and recruitment. 

In attempts to stem this destructive trend and sustain the fish populations, increasing regulation has been placed on fisheries (species and country quotas, limits to minimum net mesh size, number of days allowed fishing, total catch, and limiting new entrants into the fleet). Most recently, there has been a trend toward sector management of fishing which allocates quotas on an ecosystem basis. In response, fishermen have branched out into catching alternative species such as lobster, dogfish, monkfish, skate and cusk in order to continue making a living while remaining in compliance with the stringent regulations.

However, despite these measures, studies have shown a continual decline throughout the region in abundance of cod, haddock and flounder. In fact, in response to record low catches, the US Department of Commerce declared disaster status for the industry in September of this year!
Fishing boats are moored at the Commercial Fishing Pier in Portsmouth, N.H., last winter. The government has declared New England's groundfish industry a 'disaster' in 2012, clearing the way for up to $100M financial assistance. Source: Associated Press
Meredith Mendelson, deputy commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, said the declaration is federal acknowledgement that something other than "fishing pressure" is slowing the recovery of fish stocks.

"Fishermen have been staying within their catch limits for several years now," Mendelson said. "So it is not the fault of the industry. There is something else going on in the environment."

There is no question that most worldwide fisheries practices are not ecologically sustainable. However pollution, habitat destruction, and climate change with consequent warmer seawater temperatures have received increasing attention as additional major factors in decreasing groundfish populations and their recovery.

While the New England Fisheries Management Council was scheduled to vote on new regulations for 2013-2015 in December, they have delayed any decisions until January 2013 when they hope to have more information on industry and environmental impact.  We'll be sure to keep you posted on the results!


For a Brief History of the Groundfishing Industry of New England, see Steven Murawski's article for NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center.

Why is this happening?  Take a look at this report researching causes of Decline of Fisheries Resources.

Want an interesting read on the influence of cod fishing in world history and economic development, and maybe a great gift idea as well?  Take a look at the book Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky.

For the latest status on changes in regulations, see Saving Seafood's alert site.


 Thanks for Your Adoptions!

Common Dolphin  

OGL would like to thank the following people for their Adoptions of Marine Mammal Species in support of the Marine Mammal Genome Archive:


Wendy McNulty and John and Ginny Krawetz:  Right Whale 

John Nove:  Grey Seal

Debra Pittman:  Grey Seal 

Fiona Stewart and Hazel and Mark Lyons:  Minke Whale   


It's not too late for you to Adopt a Marine Mammal Species.  See how you can help to save our closest relatives in the ocean.  By adopting a marine mammal species, you help to support genomic research that can help prevent the decline of some of the most intelligent and social (not to mention the cutest!) creatures ever to swim the sea.   


Thanks in advance for your support! 

 Coming Soon...

The "Benjamin Button" Jellyfish      

Think there is no "Fountain of Youth"?  Maybe Ponce de Len was right after all!  Read in our next issue to learn how the increasingly invasive "Benjamin Button" jellyfish has learned to age backward, and what researches think we may learn from this intriguing creature!  

Immortal Jellyfish
The "Benjamin Button" jellyfish, Turritopsis dohrnii, can revert to its juvenile polyp state when stressed.
Photo:Takashi Murai/New York Times



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Dan Distel
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