A coffin for cod? The downward spiral of the fish that built New England

Mike Anderson lands a cod he caught in the early 1990s using hand-line gear in the nearshore waters off Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

When Mike Anderson arrived in Cape Cod in the 1960s as a young man with dreams of adventures at sea, many people shared the same warning: “You won’t get rich in the fishing business; it’s just a way of life.”

But Anderson, undeterred, embraced that lifestyle, fishing his way through decades of long, sometimes treacherous days at sea in the sun, wind, fog, and ice. His hands toughened like leather as he baited hooks late into the night in anticipation of the next day’s bounty. He relished the challenge of each day, the camaraderie among tough-as-nails fishermen, and the exhilarating adventure of it all.

Mike Anderson lands a cod he caught in the early 1990s using hand-line gear in the nearshore waters off Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Anderson, now 72, was part of the glory days of thriving New England fishing towns, when fishermen followed their fathers into the business and old-timers spoke, only half-jokingly, of cod so plentiful one could practically walk across the water on their backs. Back then, despite early signs of decline, people still thought the fish were limitless. Most people, that is, except for Anderson.

He believed trawlers that dragged nets along the ocean bottom, scooping up vast amounts of cod, were capturing too many fish and damaging the seafloor. He stubbornly stuck to hook-and-line fishing, even as nets started sweeping up cod in numbers he’d never seen before. In due time, his two-man crew—which once pulled in thousands of pounds of cod a day and regularly caught fish weighing 40 to 50 pounds—began to see both its catch and the size of the fish decline. By the 1990s, the cod were so sparse and small that Anderson gave up and moved on to other species.

Anderson feels he witnessed the decimation of one of the greatest concentrations —> Read More

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