Fishing for information about cod

AN Irish vessel is playing a central role in important research into cod stocks in the North Atlantic, which is beginning to show signs of hope for the endangered species.

Celtic Explorer, on lease from our Marine Institute, has just completed a second year of surveying cod populations off Newfoundland and Labrador.

Twenty years after the closing of Newfoundland’s once-thriving cod fishery, a growing number of scientists, fishermen and environmentalists report signs the fish are finally coming back — given a chance.

Warmer water, which may not suit animals such as the polar bear, may be helping cod. Research indicates cod are living longer and getting bigger because of changing climatic conditions. There was a time when tasty cod featured on the menu of ‘chippers’ in Ireland, but you rarely, if ever, get it nowadays as stocks have been fished almost to the point of extinction.

Supermarket fridges, which have an abundance of salmon, whiting, haddock and plaice, also seem to have less cod. Up to 80% of cod caught in European waters is consumed in Britain and Ireland.

In addition to news from Newfoundland, there are encouraging results from studies by the Marine Institute which show that cod grow quickly and to large sizes in the Celtic Sea. In late 2010, the Newfoundland authorities decided to play a bigger role in fisheries research. They committed $14m to charter Celtic Explorer and for the creation of the Centre for Fisheries Ecosystems Research, which is now part of Memorial University’s Marine Institute.

Armed with the findings of research, they felt they would be better able to influence quotas and overall control of fish stocks. Last year, the research got off to a bad start because of extreme weather, with the team losing more than half of the available time because conditions were too rough to deploy their equipment. This year, however, was much better.

The Galway-based ship, fitted out with the latest research gear, uses advanced sonar equipment to scan an area and basically count fish and other sea life. At times, the scientists cast out their nets and haul up samples, so age, weight, diet and general condition can be assessed.

Several of the largest cod specimens caught, well over a metre in length, were equipped with satellite tags and released. Those tags will detach from the fish after a year and beam their data back to land via satellites. Celtic Explorer will be back in St. John’s to conduct its third round of testing next April.


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