PORTLAND, Me. — In the vast gulf that arcs from Massachusetts’s shores to Canada’s Bay of Fundy, cod was once king. It paid for fishermen’s boats, fed their families and put their children through college. In one halcyon year in the mid-1980s, the codfish catch reached 25,000 tons.
Today, the cod population has collapsed. Last month, regulators effectively banned fishing for six months while they pondered what to do, and next year, fishermen will be allowed to catch just a quarter of what they could before the ban.
But a fix may not be easy. The Gulf of Maine’s waters are warming — faster than almost any ocean waters on earth, scientists say — and fish are voting with their fins for cooler places to live. That is upending an ecosystem and the fishing industry that depends on it.
“Stocks are not necessarily showing up in the places that they have in the past,” said Meredith Mendelson, the deputy commissioner for Maine’s Department of Marine Resources, which regulates fisheries. “We’re seeing movement of stocks often north and eastward.”
Regulators this month canceled the Maine shrimp catch for the second straight year, in no small part because shrimp are fleeing for colder climes. Maine lobsters are booming, but even so, the most productive lobster fishery has shifted as much as 50 miles up the coast in the last 40 years. Black sea bass, southerly fish seldom seen here before, have become so common that this year, Maine officials moved to regulate their catch. Blue crab, a signature species in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, are turning up off Portland.
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