Two Banks and a Gulf
In historical context, there have always been three main stocks, or in this case fishing grounds, for the Northwestern Atlantic Cod. These stocks are the Grand Banks, George’s Bank, and the Gulf of Maine.
The Grand Banks is a grouping of banks off the coast of Newfoundland. A bank is a massive shoal that rises up from the bottom of the ocean near the edge of the continental shelf (7). The largest of the banks in the Grand Banks is rightly named the Grand Bank. (2) Banks are especially rich in nutrients, plankton, krill, herring, and other food sources, allowing the growth of large populations of other target species such as cod, haddock, and swordfish (2, 7, 8). Adding to the extremely waters, which are never deeper than 100 meters, the warm Gulf Stream and the cold Labrador current first meet at the Grand Banks (2). This mixture helps to spur extra growth of plankton and helps to increase the turbidity of the water, stirring up the benthic worms and other organisms used for food by larger species of fish (7,8). The Grand Banks was the first stock of cod to be fished in the New World and one of the largest (2, 7, 8). After Newfoundland was discovered in the late 15th century and, along with it, the Grand Banks, fishing pressure continued to increase yearly (2). The introduction of DWFs in the mid 20th century further increased pressure (2). The largest haul was in 1968 when 810, 000 tons of cod were caught (2,7). This number began to decrease until the excess effort from fishermen drove the Fisheries Manager, John Crosbie, to impose a moratorium in 1992 (2, 7, 8). In 1994, it was found that only 2,000 tons of Spawning Stock Biomass, or the dry weight of all fish in a species that can reproduce, were still in the Grand Banks, less than 1% of the historical biomass (2, 7, 8). After more than 20 years of almost no cod fishing on the Banks, the cod population only grew back to 10% of the historical biomass, leading many to disbelieve that this cod stock will ever grow back; nevertheless, there are still those who believe that another decade or two of tight restrictions will usher in a new Grand Banks’ cod fishery golden age (7).
George’s Bank is the other large bank which supported a thriving cod fishery (2, 7, 8). George’s Bank actually used to be part of the North American mainland until the climate change after the last Ice Age submerged the Bank (7). George’s Bank is 120 km southeast of Massachusetts (2, 7). The Bank is oval-shaped and is 240 km long and 120 km wide; the area of the Bank is larger than the whole state of Massachusetts (7). Besides cod and haddock, the two main commercial demersal species, George’s Bank is also a popular breeding ground for herring, flounders, lobsters, scallops, and clams (7). Like the Grand Banks, the Labrador and the Jet Stream converge on the Bank, increasing the amount of plankton and nutrient in the waters (7). Also like the Grand Banks, George’s Bank received increasing effort and catch from fishermen as technology developed (2, 7, 8). However, unlike the Grand Banks, which were only in Canada’s EEZ, George’s Bank was in both the U.S.’s and Canada’s EEZs (7). The result was that Canada could fish in part of the Northeast Peak, a northern section of George’s Bank (2). George’s Bank became the last bank in which cod fishing was permitted in 1992 when the Grand Banks’ moratorium was placed (2, 7). Nevertheless, restrictions were drastically increased and 9,600 square km of the Bank was closed as well (7). In 1994, fishermen were restricted to 139 days at sea, and, in 1996, when 55% of the whole stock was culled, this was tightened to only 88 days (2). Today, fishing still continues but so does the ban on those 9,600 square km of the Bank and the tight restrictions on the rest of the Bank (7).