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(Gadus morhua) is a commercial fish species. The huge catches that could made off the Grand Banks and other parts of the eastern seaboard of North America enticed large European fishing fleets, notably Basque fishermen from northern Spain and Biscay, to cross the Atlantic from the beginning of the 16th century onwards. It was claimed at the time that a man could walk across the sea on the backs of the cod. Annual catches peaked in the mid-1980s at over 2 million tonnes. The increase was partly a result of improvements in fishing technology and partly increases in the number of boats working in the cod fisheries as other stocks declined and fishing grounds were closed. Warning signs appeared: the average sizes diminished sharply and fewer old fish were caught. Suddenly the stocks crashed, probably because of the over-exploitation. But, at much the same time, big changes occurred in the ecology of the North Atlantic; the currents changed, and the composition of the plankton that the cod larvae feed on changed, too. The Canadians closed their fishery causing economic disaster to local communities, but to no avail. The cod almost totally disappeared, and has failed to recover. Moderately large catches are still taken in Icelandic waters where, in the 1970s, Iceland closed its fishing grounds to the fleets of other nations, precipitating a feud with British fishermen that is remembered as the Cod Wars, but even round Iceland the stocks are in decline. This sudden and dramatic failure of this important fishery epitomizes the crisis being faced by the commercial fishing industry worldwide. Too many fishermen are chasing too few fish. The social and economic impacts on the local fishing communities have been devastating, yet to subsidize them to keep fishing is not a solution. The shifts in the ecology of the North Atlantic are thought to be linked to the North Atlantic Oscillation.Kurlanski, M., Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World (1997).M. V. Angel

Distribution of one-year-old cod 1997-2001 in the North Sea

Subjects: Maritime History — Medicine and Health.

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