Credible reports suggest that Newfoundland cod stocks are on the mend. Fishing interests would like to see a limited fishery, but others are not so sure.
In any case, no one should be surprised that a recovery is under way, thanks to a pair of critical environmental conditions: warmer seawater and a moratorium on cod fishing.
It's not likely the seascape in the far northwest Atlantic will be riddled with trawl doors splashing their way down to codfish honey holes anytime soon. The recovery will be heralded as proof that the moratorium, imposed in 1992 following the collapse of stocks to a theoretical 1 percent of earlier levels, is working.
"I'm not sure we'll just wake up one day and someone will say, 'This will be over tomorrow,'" said John Boland of Fish, Food and Allied Workers, which represents 12,000 Newfoundland fishermen. Boland spoke with Munchies, a website and digital video channel describing itself as dedicated to food and its global purpose, in December.
"I suspect we'll be more cautious this time," he said, suggesting that harvests would be increased slowly. More than 35,000 people were put out of work when the moratorium was imposed.
If the Barents Sea is any indication, circumstances may favor cod. Between Russia and Norway, more than 950,000 tons were landed in 2013. In the video below, a Norwegian trawler takes to the Barents Sea to catch, process and freeze cod during a 2014 trip.
This year's Barents Sea quota is close to 900,000 tons. (New England fishermen will be allowed 386 tons this fishing year.)
When you are catching fish at this pace it is not because you have the best fathometer or the smartest managers, although both these things may be true. It is because the fish are ass deep.
Warming seawater temperatures over the last three-plus decades are viewed as a likely factor in the abundance of cod in the Barents Sea. Interestingly, managers there have felt compelled to cut haddock quotas, not as a result of scarcity or overfishing but in response to predation by cod.
Off Newfoundland, seal predation will factor in the recovery of cod, just as surely as fishing effort and water temperature, even if there is a chorus that will deny this with its last breath.
All of which reminds us that nothing much happens of its own accord in the ocean.
Meanwhile, we'll bet on Newfie cod and wait patiently, surrounded by environmental factors like ourselves.