Cod Returns?

by Paul Molyneaux


Halibut Man, Gloucester 2010. Halibut is another fin fish researchers are planning to raise in cages. The once mighty cod is returning as an aquaculture product in Gulf of Maine experiments. The feds and investors are thinking big, but some observers are questioning where aquaculture feed will come from with herring and other small fish already heavily utilized.  ©Photo by Sam Murfitt

In his logbooks from 1898, Maine fisherman Del Raynes kept a record of the cod, hake, and other fish he caught among the islands of upper Penobscot Bay. In his 25-foot sloop, Remora, he rarely ventured south of Vinalhaven. But in the next hundred years Maine’s inshore cod stocks all but vanished. Fishermen of Del Raynes’s era blamed the introduction of beam trawls and gillnets. Years of unregulated industrial and municipal discharge polluted important spawning grounds, and variations in oceanic currents in the 1980s are believed to have altered fish migration patterns. In 1986, Ted Ames, whose family fished alongside the Raynes’s for generations, steamed his little dragger, Dorothy M. Downeast to fish the autumn runs of cod that once filled the Saint Croix River estuary and waters off Lubec and Cutler. That was the last strong inshore cod fishery in Maine, and it is gone.

Beginning early in the 2000s, a cadre of aquaculture entrepreneurs, researchers and promoters launched a multi-million-dollar project intended to bring cod back to Maine’s inshore waters, as a farmed species. Riding a wave of government support for aquaculture development, experienced players in the fish farming industry focused their energy and substantial funding on the idea of re-establishing eastern Maine as a major cod producing region, and helping Maine fishing families become fish farmers.


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