The Atlantic cod is one of the most abundant fish species in the world, inhabiting waters around the globe. However, it is now being overfished and could face extinction within 50 years. This week, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed the Atlantic cod as “vulnerable.”
About the Species
Cod are among the oldest living creatures on Earth. They live up to 40 years and grow to about 25 pounds. Their lifespan depends on location and food availability. When fishing season begins in May, cod move into warmer water to spawn. Females lay eggs that hatch in less than a month. Young cod feed on krill and small crustaceans. As they mature, cod eat larger prey such as squid, shrimp, crabs, herring and mackerel.
Atlantic cod are heavy-bodied fish with a large head, a blunt snout, and distinctive barbel (a whiskery organ) under the lower jaw; the eyes are small and set close together. They vary in size, shape, and coloration, ranging from pale yellowish green to reddish brown and olive, often with dark spots on the head, fins and tail, and sometimes spotted on the belly. In general, individuals tend toward one particular color pattern, although some individuals exhibit a wide range of colors.
The skin is smooth and soft. The dorsal fin is long, extending well beyond the anal fin, and there is no caudal fin. A lateral line, visible along both sides of the fish, extends from the upper lip to the base of the pectoral fin. This line is used by the fish to detect vibrations in the water caused by prey items such as shrimp, plankton, and even predators such as sharks. There are four pairs of gill slits.
Cod are bottom feeders. They swim slowly and use their mouths and teeth to scrape food off rocks and into holes in the substrate. As they move forward, they push water out of their way.
Atlantic cod are found worldwide in temperate waters. They prefer deep, cool, and clean coastal areas where there is plenty of algae growth. Cod spawn in springtime in shallow coastal waters and migrate offshore to warmer waters to give birth. Females lay eggs and guard them until they hatch. After hatching, young cod remain near their mothers until they reach sexual maturity at about three years old. Males mature earlier than females. Like many species of fish, cod mature faster at high temperatures.
Feeding and diet
The diet of the Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) consists of fish such as: herring, capelin and sand eel; mollusks, including mussels, oysters, clams and scallops; crustaceans, including shrimp, crabs, lobsters and crayfish; and sea worms. Cod are known to eat many organisms that are part of the zooplankton, or aquatic invertebrates, such as copepods, krill, amphipods, jellyfish, ctenophores, salps, and annelids. They are also known to prey upon marine mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects.
Atlantic cod are found in coastal waters worldwide, although most populations are located in the Northern Hemisphere. Their range extends from the Arctic Ocean southward along both sides of the Atlantic Ocean to Cape Horn and the Falkland Islands. There is evidence that cod once occurred throughout the Mediterranean Sea, but due to overfishing, it is now restricted to the Adriatic Sea and adjacent parts of the Black Sea, Aegean Sea, Ionian Sea, and Levantine Sea. Cod stocks off western Africa are considered healthy.
In the Southern Hemisphere, there is no population of Atlantic cod, except in Australia, New Zealand, South America, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. These populations are thought to be remnants of the original stock.
Cod are important commercial species, particularly in European
Atlantic Cod Population
The United Nations announced Thursday that it had reached a milestone in achieving its goal of reducing global poverty by half. In 2016, there were 793 million people living in extreme poverty — less than $1.90 per day — down from 901 million in 1990.
This is significant because it represents a 43 percent decline since the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) was set in 2000. But even though we’ve come far, there is still much work left to do.
According to World Bank data, the number of poor people worldwide increased slightly in 2017, reaching 815 million. And while some countries like China continue to see progress, others, such as India, Nigeria and Pakistan, are experiencing stagnation or worse.
There are many factors contributing to the rise in poverty, including climate change, natural disasters, political instability and conflict, weak governance, and corruption. But one factor stands out above all else: low birth rates.
In sub-Saharan Africa alone, where fertility rates remain high, the number of children born each woman could support is just over 2.5. This figure is well below the replacement level of 3.1 needed to keep populations stable.
And while some African nations are working hard to reverse this trend, most aren’t doing enough. For example, Niger has a total fertility rate of 5.9 births per woman; however, according to the latest UN estimates, only 28 percent of women use modern contraceptives.
To put this into perspective, consider that the average fertility rate in developed economies is 2.4 births per woman. If every developing nation achieved a similar fertility rate, the world’s population would stabilize within 50 years.
But that won’t happen without concerted efforts to improve education and health care access.
Atlantic Cod Fishing Rate
The European Union has been reducing fishing quotas since 2010. In 2016, it cut the total amount of fish that could be caught each year to 3.8 million tons. This year, the quota was further reduced to 2.9 million tons.
In 2018, the EU set a target of ending overfishing altogether by 2020.
However, the U.S. doesn’t have any plans to end overfishing anytime soon. The country currently allows fishermen to catch more than 30 percent of their quota.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says that if current trends continue, the world will run out of seafood by 2048.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced areas where commercial fishing vessels must use different types of nets. In addition to those already established under existing regulations, NOAA Fisheries added three additional closed areas off Florida, Louisiana and Texas. These areas include the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic coastal waters east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and the western Gulf of Mexico south of Brownsville, Texas.
Fishing activities within these newly designated areas will require the use of different gear such as purse seines, gillnets, longlines, lobster pots, crab pots, shrimp traps, and otter trawls. Commercial bottom trawlers will be prohibited from operating in these areas unless authorized by NOAA Fisheries.
In addition to area closures and gear restrictions, NOAA Fisheries also published new rules that restrict the use of certain trawl gears in specific habitats. For example, trawl gear used in the Gulf of Mexico shall not be permitted in areas classified as habitats of concern due to the presence of endangered sea turtles or marine mammals.
Atlantic Cod Population Status
The population status of Atlantic cod off New England is listed as endangered. In 2000, there were about 2.5 million metric tons of Atlantic cod in the Gulf of Maine. By 2012, it had dropped to just under half that amount.
In 2014, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that the stock was being rebuilt. However, the stock is now listed as depleted, meaning that it no longer meets the criteria required for listing as endangered.
This is the second rebuilding plan. The first one began in 2008 and lasted until 2013. During that time, the stock declined to less than 0.3 million metric tons.
Cod stocks are affected by many factors including climate change, ocean warming, pollution, overfishing, habitat loss, and disease. All of these things affect how much food cod produce.
Threat to humans
The World Health Organization says there are no known cases of human infection from eating raw oysters contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus bacteria. But it does warn people against consuming raw seafood, especially shellfish harvested along the Gulf Coast. The riskiest part of the warning is the implication that oyster consumption could lead to serious illness or death.
In fact, the CDC says most illnesses associated with eating raw oysters come from cross-contamination during harvesting. And while the number of reported cases of vibriosis has increased over the years, the actual incidence of the disease has remained relatively steady since the 1960s.
Vibrio vulnificuis causes food poisoning in about half of those infected. Symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever and vomiting. Most people recover within a few days without treatment. However, some patients develop septicemia — bloodstream infections that can cause organ failure and even death.
But the real danger is posed by people who consume raw oysters and don’t wash their hands thoroughly enough afterward. “If you’re handling raw oysters, make sure you wash your hands,” says Dr. Robert Glatter, a gastroenterologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “And don’t eat raw oysters.”