STONINGTON – It’s been 20 years since the ground fishing population collapsed in the eastern Gulf of Maine.
Now, researchers are optimistic that fisheries could be replenished in the future.
In the 1990s, halibut, cod and pollock populations from Penobscot Bay to the Canadian border diminished so rapidly the fishery collapsed. Over fishing has been cited as a factor in the fishery being depleted.
And for the past several years, researchers have been taking a fish census of sorts.
“And that is a sentinel survey which sending out commercial fishermen with commercial gear, but in this case with fish hooks, both long lines and jigs, to try to catch codfish,” said Robin Alden, executive director of Penobscot East Resource Center. The survey is a collaborative effort between Penobscot East and the University of Maine.
In fact, the long line is two miles long and used for trolling from the stern of the vessels, while the jigs are cast from the boats’ deck every few minutes.
“I think species diversity is always important, especially when you have coastal communities that depend on fishing for a living. It’s dangerous to rely on just one species,” according to Pat Shepherd, logistics manager for the sentinel survey.
Every time a survey boat heads out, a graduate student is aboard to compile data.
“I would call it an awakening in the waters. I mean, every time we go more than 10 miles offshore we’re seeing tuna. And, we’re seeing bait everywhere. And huge mackerel schools offshore where we haven’t seen them before,” said Mattie Rodrigue, a UMaine Marine Affairs graduate student.
A slight resurgence of the ground fish is attributed to an increase in the food or prey fish.
Alden said, “So we think this is a dinner bell. The dams have come down. There’s more food coming down the river. And we think we’ll see, over time, as that food supply increase. We think we’ll see an increase in the cod population.”
A goal of the survey is to assist in the development of a management plan. So, if and when the eastern Gulf of Maine become a viable fishery again, it will be sustainable as well.