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New England Fish Become Scarce as Recent Laws Take Over

New England Fish Become Scarce as Recent Laws Take Over

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New England is known for its abundant fresh fish supply, which which is an attractive reason for tourists to visit the preserved colonial towns, but with new restrictions implemented, that might change.

Effective on May 1st, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) instituted new possession limits, which limit the amount of fish, including yellowtail, haddock, and flounder, that fishermen in the gulf of Maine are allowed to return the docks with. The restrictions, which were announced earlier this year, will only last until April 30, 2013, when they will either be further applied or changed accordingly.

Not soon after the law was announced, The US District court of Boston filed a lawsuit against the NOAA, arguing that the NOAA didn’t consider the drastic economic impact that these regulations will have. While the purpose of the bill is to control and regulate the product that the fisherman are able to sell to the public, making sure that the fish remain both healthy for the customer allowing the fish in the gulf to continue to flourish comes at a cost to the fishermen.

A study conducted by the University of Massachusetts, observed that the regulations could potentially eliminate roughly 2 billion dollars in the fishing industry, while eliminating about 80,000 jobs, ranging from fisherman to restaurateurs. With both sides of the restrictions having valuable points, we have to choose what’s more important, our economy, or our beloved and delicious New England fish markets.

What’s For Dinner? What Your Ancestors Ate Back in the Day

Your Indus Valley ancestors (3300-1300 B.C.), according to archaeologists, ate a healthy diet that contained more fruits and vegetables than meat. They did keep cows, pigs, sheep, and goats for food, and they grew dates, grapes, and melons. Their field crops included wheat and peas.

How did our diets evolve over the centuries, and what did our more recent ancestors eat?

Medieval England (5th to 15th century)

Most people in medieval times were peasants who grew, raised, or hunted their own food. Though they preferred white bread made from wheat flour, peasants usually baked bread from the rye and barley they were able to grow (wheat needed lots of manure to grow well, so only farmers and lords generally had wheat bread). After a poor harvest, peasants sometimes had to include beans, peas, or acorns in their bread, which they baked in an oven belonging to the lord of the manor that they had to pay to use they weren’t allowed to have their own ovens.

They typically ate a type of soup or stew called pottage, made from oats and sometimes including beans, peas, and vegetables such as turnips and parsnips. They kept pigs and sheep for meat and used the animals’ blood to make black pudding (a dish made from blood, milk, animal fat, and oatmeal). They occasionally had some fish and cheese, and they drank water from the river (usually dirty) and milk from cows. In the villages, people made and drank ale.

Lords ate much better, of course. Their bread was white, and there were numerous meat and fish dishes at each meal. For the evening meal, they might have pigeon pie. They regularly drank wine or ale.

Ireland before potatoes

The potato is actually Peruvian and didn’t arrive in Ireland until the late 1600s. So what did Irish people eat before that? Pity the lactose-intolerant Irishman, because much of the diet revolved around dairy. They drank milk and buttermilk, ate fresh curds, and mixed whey with water to make a sour drink called “blaand.” They flavored butter with onion and garlic and buried it in bogs for storage (and later, as the taste grew on them, possibly for flavor).

The other primary food of pre-potato Ireland was grain, mostly oats, which were made into oatcakes. Wheat, which wasn’t easy to grow in Ireland, was mostly eaten by the wealthier. People supplemented their grains and milk with occasional meat and fish grew cabbages, onions, garlic, and parsnips and ate wild greens.

[Photo credit: Shutterstock]

American Colonial Era (1600s and 1700s)

There were many small farms in the Middle Colonies, which were known as the “breadbasket colonies” because they grew so many crops, including wheat, barley, oats, rye, and corn. They also raised pumpkins, squash, and beans. In the South, crops grew year round, and there were large plantations and farms that exported corn, vegetables, grain, fruit, and livestock to other colonies. The Colonies also had access to fish and seafood, including cod, halibut, mackerel, tuna, trout, salmon, clams, oysters, lobster, and mussels. They hunted game birds as well.

Most English settlers in the Colonies ate three meals a day. Breakfast was bread or cornmeal mush and milk with tea. Dinner, the biggest meal, was generally at midday or mid-afternoon and might include one or two meats, vegetables, and a dessert. Supper in the evening was a smaller meal, more like breakfast: perhaps bread and cheese, mush or hasty pudding, or leftovers from the noon meal. For the gentry, supper was a sociable meal and might include hot food like meat or shellfish, such as oysters, in season.

There was no refrigeration, and hunting was difficult in the harsh winters, so colonists preserved food by salting, smoking, pickling, drying, and making preserves such as jams, marmalades, and syrups. Some of the herbs they used for flavoring included basil, lovage, mint, parley, sage, and dill. They drank coffee, tea, and chocolate drinks.

Frenchman C. F. Volney, speaking of America during the second half of the 18 th century, was not impressed with the food. He wrote, “I will venture to say that if a prize were proposed for the scheme of a regimen most calculated to injure the stomach, the teeth, and the health in general, no better could be invented than that of the Americans.”

U.S. Civil War (1861-1865)

Before the Civil War, most people raised vegetable gardens, kept livestock, hunted, and preserved foods. A family in the North might eat a seafood chowder or Boston baked beans cooked with molasses, while a Southern family would enjoy collard greens with cracklin’ bread (corn bread mixed with fried fat).

As the war dragged on, though, food became scarce, especially in the South (see Gone With the Wind). Soldiers on both sides ate canned beans (canned foods were just starting to be available) and bread. Both sides’ armies supplied salt pork and coffee, though after a time, the latter was hard to come by in the South. Civilians, too, had to eat what was available fresh game could not always be had, and some soldiers, themselves lacking enough food, stole food and livestock from farmhouses they came upon.

[Photo credit: Shutterstock]

Victorian England (1837-1901)

The poorest people ate mostly potatoes, bread, and cheese. Working-class folks might have had meat a couple of times a week, while the middle class ate three good meals a day. Some common foods eaten were eggs, bacon and bread, mutton, pork, potatoes, and rice. They drank milk and ate sugar and jam. This is when the English tradition of afternoon tea started. At the beginning of the Victorian period, people ate what was available locally or pickled and preserved. Later in the era, when railways were available, transport refrigeration made importing meat and fish easier.

1930s America

The Depression was on, and some people went hungry because they could not afford food. Some had work, but many people lost jobs. People ate what they grew and canned, what they could afford to buy, or what they scavenged. Some ate dandelion greens, wild berries and fruits, squirrels and gophers, and the like. Economical foods introduced during the Depression years include Spam, Kraft macaroni and cheese, Bisquick, and Ritz crackers. One study found that 20 percent of children in New York City were underweight, as were up to 90 percent in the poorest regions, such as Appalachia. Larger cities had soup kitchens where people stood in line for a free meal. This is when the U.S. government started its food stamp program.

World War II — England

Food was rationed, and people were encouraged to “Dig for Victory” and plant vegetable gardens so they would be more food self-sufficient.

In England, ration books allowed you to buy limited amounts of foods such as sugar, bacon, butter, meat, tea, jam, cheese, milk, eggs, and cooking fat. People were permitted one egg every two weeks, though this was not guaranteed, and one pound of meat per week. The cheese ration varied from one ounce per person per week up to eight ounces. As less wheat was imported, more flour was extracted from what grain there was, and the wholemeal loaf of bread that resulted, though different from the white bread people were used to, was actually healthier.

Starting in 1942, the government distributed one packet of dried egg (equivalent to 12 eggs) per person every other month. (The dried eggs made rubbery omelettes.) Bread and potatoes, which were not rationed during the war, went on ration after it, and tea continued to be rationed until 1952. All rationing finally ended in 1954, long after the war was over.

Black Bear

The black bear (Ursus americanus) is the smallest of the three bear species found in North America. It is the only bear found in Vermont.

Black bears are members of the order Carnivora, which also includes dogs, cats, weasels, and raccoons.

Vermont black bears are relatively shy animals and are seldom seen by people. This is an important factor influencing bear distribution, as Vermont bears prefer wild areas with fewer people. Therefore, bears are less likely to approach populated areas. However, during times when natural food supplies are low, bears may be attracted to bird feeders and garbage cans, and can become a nuisance or a potential danger to people.


The best habitat for black bears in Vermont is a mixture of coniferous trees, hardwoods, wetlands, and variation in terrain. Because they need dense cover to escape danger, the wary and elusive black bears prefer rough and wooded habitats. The habitat should also have a good water supply nearby.

Coniferous trees provide concealment and protection from severe weather. Stands of beech and oak, along with wetlands, are important feeding areas for bears in Vermont.

Bears are usually silent and travel alone. Exceptions are family groups and breeding adults during the mating season. Family groups typically consist of the adult female and her cubs, which travel with her through their second spring.

Black bears climb trees to feed on ripening fruit and as a means to escape danger. Bears will sit near the trunk of a tree on a large branch and pull other branches towards them to eat the nuts. This eating place looks like a large bird's nest, with all the branches pulled toward the center. Bears climb trees with the use of their claws, and claw marks can usually be seen on the trunk.

Although bears are often thought to hibernate, they are not true hibernators. During true hibernation, body temperature, respiration, and metabolic rates are considerably decreased.

A bear's respiration and metabolic rate do decrease during the winter sleep, but its temperature remains close to normal. Thus a bear in a winter den can be easily aroused within moments, whereas in a true hibernator, it may take several hours.

Food supplies are the most critical factor determining when bears den in the fall. When foods are abundant, bears will continue eating throughout the snows of November and into December. When fall foods are scarce, most bears den by mid-November.

The den is commonly a brush pile. It may also be a pocket or cave in rocky ledges a hollow in a large tree or a fallen log a sheltered depression or cavity dug out at the base of a log, tree, or upturned root or even a simple hole dug into a hillside.

Male bears den up almost anywhere. Females, however, are more particular, selecting protected sites and lining them with stripped bark, leaves, grasses, ferns, or moss.


Bears become mature at about three and a half years. Black bears give birth every other year. The breeding season occurs during June and July.

After mating, the fertilized egg does not become placed into the mother's uterus and grow until fall. This process is called "delayed implantation." The egg will begin to grow only if the female has attained a minimum body weight of 150 pounds.

The female's ability to produce cubs relates directly to fall food supplies. If the food supplies are poor prior to denning, the female may not have enough fat reserves to grow a cub, and so no cubs will be born.

Inadequate food supplies may also affect fetal development and cub survival. In most years, the cub mortality is around 20%, but may be as high as 50% during years of food scarcity. Well-nourished females are much more likely to produce healthier, larger cubs, and in greater numbers.

Cubs are born in late January or early February while the mother is denning. The number of cubs varies from one to five, but the average is two.

The cubs, weigh only 8 to 10 ounces at birth, and are about the size of a chipmunk. The cubs will remain with the mother until they are about 16 months old. Young females may remain close to their mother's home range, but young males must find their own territory.

Although the black bear belongs to the order Carnivora, it is a true omnivore, eating both plants and animals. Major food sources include seeds and insects, but the black bear is an opportunist and will eat just about anything that crosses its path. Early spring is the most difficult time of the year for bears. At this time, food is scarce and bears must scavenge intensively to stay alive. Because wetlands green up first, wetland grasses and green, leafy plants have been found to be the primary food of the black bear in the spring. However, these have limited nutritional value, so bears continue to draw from any remaining fat reserves.

From the time they emerge from their dens to the end of July, their activities center around forested wetlands, beaver dams, and along streams and riverbanks.

Typically, bears must wait until early to mid-summer before regaining an adequate level of nutrition. By early summer, bears have the opportunity to eat a variety of succulent plants such as the roots of the jack-in-the-pulpit and berries that are beginning to become available. Bears may also prey upon young deer and moose at this time, although bears do not actively hunt for these food sources. During this time, no single food source is available in such abundance that bears can concentrate on only one item.

As summer progresses, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries ripen. If these crops are abundant, bears immerse themselves in a concentrated food source with high sugar content.

By late August, bears seek foods with the highest nutritional value. In an effort to store as much energy as possible, they will eat up to 24 hours a day. If beechnuts and acorns are plentiful, bears will move into productive beech and oak stands and consume high quantities of the nuts. Bears may travel many miles to reach fall food supplies and will continue to forage for beechnuts for several weeks.

Other fall foods include cherries, apples, succulent plants, and berries. Bears will also eat available crops of corn and oats, and will commonly raid bee hives.


In 1941, the black bear was elevated to the status of a big game animal and received protection under Vermont's laws. The techniques of black bear harvesting were further regulated by banning trapping in 1967, controlling the use of hunting dogs, outlawing baiting, and prohibiting the shooting of bears at dumps in 1972.

Because of improvements in habitat and through management efforts, Vermont's black bears have made a strong comeback. Their numbers are higher today than they have been in 200 years.

Close monitoring and management of Vermont's black bear population is necessary to ensure it remains healthy and abundant in the future. The principle concern for their future relates to their habitat. Major concerns include development and varying production of their critical wild foods, such as acorns and beechnuts.

Vermont's black bear management program has four components:

  • Educating the public,
  • Protecting bear habitat,
  • Regulating harvest and utilization,
  • Responding to animal damage and public safety issues.


By examining the sex and age from harvested bears each year, wildlife biologists are able to estimate the bear population in Vermont. Bear numbers are now believed to be higher than at any time since before European settlement.

Regulated hunting is used to align population estimates with biological data, habitat limitations, and public satisfaction data to sustain a bear population between 4,500 and 6,000 animals.

Before European settlers arrived, most of Vermont was dense forestland, providing ideal bear habitat. However, by the 1850s, almost 75% of Vermont's land area was cleared for farmland. Consequently, bears were at their lowest population level at that time.

From the 1850s to the present, land use changed drastically. The once-abundant pastures and fields slowly reverted to woodlands, and today over 80% of Vermont is once again forested. As a result, the quality of Vermont's black bear habitat has greatly improved.

The highest numbers of bears can be found in the center spine of the Green Mountains, from Massachusetts to Canada, and in the northeastern part of Vermont.

Do I Have To Buy A Live Lobster To Make A Lobster Roll?

Live lobster have a greenish blue color that turns bright red after being cooked

I’ll admit, buying a live lobster, cooking it and then getting the meat out can be laborious, not to mention intimidating. We have lobster for my husband’s birthday every year, and he always gets the job of cooking and cracking the lobsters. But he doesn’t seem to mind, I think it’s like meditation for him.

When I priced the lobster meat online it looked so expensive, but once we made the lobster rolls from whole lobster here, I realized there really was negligible difference in cost.

When you are making lobster rolls, lobster salad or serving it cold in any manner, then at least look into buying the frozen lobster. Sure, live lobster is best, but frozen is easiest, and if serving cold there’s not a huge difference in taste and texture.

Frozen lobster really shouldn’t be reheated.

A nice cold beer goes perfect with lobster rolls

2019 Survey Projects

Factors affecting the availability of American plaice and other flatfish to research surveys in the Gulf of Maine

Twin trawl rig on the stern of the F/V Karen Elizabeth. Four experiments have been conducted aboard this vessel to compare flatfish catch using different net configurations. Photo: NOAA Fisheries

Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Collaborators: Tyler Pavlowich

Massachusetts Department of Marine Fisheries

Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Funding: $103,000

Problem: Changing climate may explain shifts in groundfish distribution in the Gulf of Maine observed by fishermen and scientists. Geographical shifts in species distribution may also link to changes in migration timing. If these changes in distribution and migration also change the availability of flatfish to surveys, population indices derived from survey catch and used in stock assessments may be biased. Our goal is to collaborate with fishing industry experts to investigate these issues and develop tools as needed to account for them in operational stock assessments.

Approach: This is an ongoing project. This year, we will continue a collaborative survey experiment designed to incorporate information gathered from fishermen in Phase 1. We will use the resulting information to develop better catchability estimates for use in stock assessments. Next, we will try to track commercial flatfish landings back to 2006 – when, where, and how much was landed – during times of the year when the federal survey was not underway. Finally, we will attempt to find ways of integrating results into stock assessments.

Expected Outcomes:

  • Better understanding of changes in flatfish distribution and migration
  • Availability indices of flatfish to surveys for use in stock assessments
  • Summaries of important socio-ecological dimensions of flatfish fisheries
  • Better understanding of the science that underlies stock assessments and management decisions

Northeast Regional Climate Action Plan Priorities: NERAP Action 1 - Give greater emphasis to climate-related Terms of Reference and analyses in stock assessments Action 2 - Continue development of stock assessment models that include environmental terms Action 6 - Improve spatial management of living marine resources through an increased understanding of spatial and temporal distributions, migration, and phenology Action 10 - Conduct research on the mechanistic effects of multiple climate factors on living marine resources with a goal of improving assessments and scientific advice provided to managers.

Gulf of Maine cooperative fixed-gear bottom-longline survey: Improving New England groundfish assessments and understanding of stock structure

Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Funding: $450,000

Problem: Maintaining a time series of data is critical to understanding the effect of changing climate on fisheries, species distribution, and abundance relative to preferred habitats. Many of the species targeted are at the southern limit of their range and highly vulnerable to climate change, and some are data-poor and have small quotas that can limit catch of more abundant groundfish. The Gulf of Maine bottom-longline survey is conducted on commercial fishing vessels and provides biological data on groundfish and some data-poor species, gathered from rocky-bottom habitat. A longline survey time series is needed if we are to incorporate these data into fishery stock assessments.

Approach: The Gulf of Maine cooperative bottom-longline survey uses fixed longline gear and focuses on complex rocky habitat not readily sampled using trawl gear. The data collected complement those derived from other fishery-independent surveys, particularly the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s bottom-trawl survey. The survey also yields samples used to age larger sizes of important groundfish, which improves the precision of the age keys used in assessments. At each station, bottom temperature, current, and habitat data are also collected. These help researchers monitor shifts in fish abundance and distribution relative to changing environmental parameters.

Expected Outcomes:

  • Continued biannual fixed longline sampling in the Gulf of Maine
  • More data on catch, temperature/depth, current velocity, and habitat/bottom type
  • Support for appropriate analyses to test the usefulness and scope of current data
  • Maintaining important collaborative relationships with fishermen and commercial vessels to support collaborations on fishery and protected species research

Northeast Regional Climate Action Plan Priorities: Action 6 - Improve spatial management of living marine resources through an increased understanding of spatial and temporal distributions, migration, and phenology Action 13 - Maintain ecosystem survey effort in the Northeast U.S. Shelf ecosystem and expand where possible Action 15 – Coordinate with other NOAA Programs and partners to link living marine resource science and management to climate science and research activities

Analysis of Gulf of Maine cooperative fixed-gear bottom-longline survey data to enhance New England groundfish assessments and understanding of stock structure

Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Funding: $142,000

Problem: The Gulf of Maine cooperative longline survey is in its sixth year of sampling at 45 stations distributed over the same sampling strata as the NEFSC bottom-trawl survey in rocky-bottomed habitats. We need advanced analyses of these data in order to use them in biological studies and fishery stock assessment.

Approach: Currently we are comparing catch between this survey and the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s bottom-trawl survey to understand selectivity patterns between the two, and how habitat or gear can influence these patterns. “Selectivity” is a measurement of how well (or poorly) a gear captures different species, which generally depends on the size and shape of the fish. We intend to develop basic modeling approaches to create relative indices of abundance for regularly captured species. We will investigate advanced analytical tasks to extend the use of these data.

Expected Outcomes:

  • Advanced understanding of species such as white hake, thorny skate, cusk, and other hard-bottom species that maybe be under-sampled in bottom-trawl surveys
  • All data audited and stored in a managed database
  • A report on the current analyses
  • Testing more ways to relate catch rates to factors such as depth, temperature, current velocity, hook availability, vessel effects, or bottom type
  • Analyses of different catch rates in these areas by different surveys to improve understanding of how fish densities change relative to habitat and environmental conditions

Northeast Regional Climate Action Plan Priorities : Action 6 - Improve spatial management of living marine resources through an increased understanding of spatial and temporal distributions, migration, and phenology Action 13 - Maintain ecosystem survey effort in the Northeast U.S. Shelf ecosystem and expand where possible Action 15 – Coordinate with other NOAA Programs and partners to link living marine resource science and management to climate science and research activities

Northeast Trawl Advisory Panel joint research: Improving NEFSC bottom trawl survey

Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Funding: $243,000

Problem: The Northeast Fisheries Science Center is actively involved in the Northeast Trawl Advisory Panel, an industry advisory panel set up by the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils. A current focus area for the Northeast Trawl Advisory Panel is improving the NEFSC multispecies bottom trawl survey. As part of this work, we work directly with fishermen on fishing vessels to test and examine gear performance.

Approach: Gear performance studies have been ongoing since 2015, with activities collaboratively designed with NTAP members. Fishermen, scientists, and fishery managers are included as NTAP members. This proposal will continue experimental work for another year, in the iterative process of understanding gear performance and linking that to effects on data gathered.

Expected Outcomes: Better understanding of the effects of gear performance on catch.

Northeast Climate Action Plan Priority: Action 7 - Continue to build industry-based fisheries and ocean observing capabilities and use information to develop more adaptive management.

Commercial Fishermen Collect Needed Samples

Each flounder species studied has three stocks: Southern New England and Mid-Atlantic, Gulf of Maine, and Georges Bank. Both species spawn in winter to spring. All stocks have been in decline in the recent past.

At first, center researchers asked if fecundity varied among the three stocks for each flounder species. They observed different rates of reproductive productivity in multiple years. Among years, there was relatively little variation however, they had only collected a few years of samples.

The team needed more years of data to show significant variations over time and locations, and continued collecting samples through 2019.

Those samples came from commercial fishermen who participate in the center’s Cooperative Research Program’s Study Fleet, and from the center’s Industry Cooperative Sweep Comparison Study. Supplemental samples were obtained from trawl surveys conducted by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and the University of Rhode Island.

With enough focused sampling, researchers can begin to fill in gaps in knowledge about the species’ life histories. We can also address other questions related to stock assessments, such as how environmental factors might influence projected populations.

Period 3. Fishing Troubles (1930-1960)

"It is only in the last few years when the fishing fleet has suffered from a marked scarcity of haddock that the folly of (the) belief in the inexhaustibility of nature has become potent".

William Herrington
Transactions of the American Fisheries Society,1932

The sudden rise in popularity of haddock resulted in early signs of stress in the population, and landings plummeted. Scientists were asked to study causes of the drop in landings, and to recommend conservation measures. In reaction to changes in stock size, the fleet moved into waters off Canada (as the salt cod industry had in earlier years). Biologists of the day recommended increasing net mesh sizes, but no formal agreement was forthcoming. Profitability of the fishing industry declined significantly through the Great Depression. Later in this era, the outbreak of WW II resulted in prosperity as war-time protein demands and a shortage of large fishing vessels that were conscripted for military activities. After the war, lower demand and more vessels resulted in very low profitability. The rise and fall of the redfish industry is a classic story of the consequences of unrestrained development of a nonsustainable fishery.


Cheesecake Factory Pasta Carbonara with Chicken

2,290 calories, N/A fat (81 g saturated fat), 1,630 mg sodium

That's the calorie equivalent of: 11 Stouffer's French Bread Pepperoni Pizzas in a bowl

Cheesecake Factory won't release their nutritional information, and when you understand just how loaded their entrees are with unnecessary calories, you'll understand why. This dish alone has more than a day's worth of calories—and that's before you order a slice of cheesecake, which rates anywhere from 800 to 1,110 calories per serving.

Eat This Instead!

Rigatoni with Roasted Tomato Sauce

990 calories, N/A fat (2 g saturated fat) 450 mg sodium

One of the few pasta dishes at the Factory that won't leave you feeling like you've been through the mill.

Where did all the cod go? Fishing crisis in the North Sea

By 7.30am all the cod at Peterhead fish market had been sold, snapped up by competing buyers wearing thick fleeces, woolly hats and rubber boots against the chill of the vast indoor warehouse.

A gaggle of middle-aged men clutching books of brightly coloured “tallies” followed the auctioneer alongside crates of glassy-eyed fish nestling in ice. With a curt nod or a swift hand gesture, the price was settled, tallies thrown down to indicate the fish’s new owner, and the group moved on. It took less than 10 minutes to dispose of the night’s catch.

Most of the fish would be heading south, to England or mainland Europe. The Scots are not big cod eaters, preferring haddock with their chips. This dates, apparently, from pre-refrigeration days: haddock is a fish best eaten really fresh, whereas cod is tastiest a couple of days after being caught.

The Peterhead buyers were cagey about naming their customers, but the fish they purchased was destined for supermarkets, fishmongers, restaurants, and a few of the classic takeaway chippies that are a national institution. But all this could now be under threat: a report published last month by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (Ices) revealed that North Sea cod stocks had fallen to critical levels. Warning that cod was being harvested unsustainably, it recommended a 63% cut in the catch – and that’s on top of a 47% reduction last year.

Independent auditors are reviewing the Ices report, and by late September they will announce whether the fisheries can retain their Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certificates of sustainability – issued only two years ago – or whether those certificates will be suspended. Depending on the decision, North Sea cod could soon be off the menu.

At Peterhead, Europe’s largest white-fish port, the cod haul was small, perhaps half the amount of the previous night, causing a buyers’ scramble. “It fluctuates,” said an official, shrugging his shoulders.

Stuart Cowie, who has been in the industry for 20 years, said everyone was worried about the Ices advice. “There are too many merchants and too few fish.”

But Will Clark was more sanguine. The managing director of Wilsea had bought 37 boxes of cod that morning, he declared after consulting a small black notebook. The fish would be heading down “the spine of England” – the Midlands and London, which were “strong cod-eating areas” – and across the Channel.

“The fish will be with my customers by 1am or 2am, and in the shops by 7am or 8am tomorrow. People will be eating it anywhere in Europe by tomorrow lunchtime.” North Sea cod, he said, was “well managed. All stocks go up and down. It’s a concern, but we’ve been here before.”

And indeed we have. North Sea cod stocks were once plentiful but plummeted – and came perilously close to collapse – between the early 1970s and 2006. A “cod recovery plan” sought to restore stocks to sustainable levels by limiting fishing days, decommissioning boats, banning catches in nursery areas and putting larger holes in nets to allow young cod to escape.

A fish market trader stands on crates of cod as they sit in ice at Peterhead Fish Market. Photograph: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In what was seen as a significant achievement, the stock rose fourfold between 2006 and 2017, when the MSC – on whose guidance big retailers and many consumers rely – awarded three fisheries sustainable status. The MSC’s distinctive blue label with a white tick was a huge fillip to the industry.

The UK consumes about 115,000 tonnes of cod each year. Only 15,000 tonnes comes from the North Sea, with the rest imported mainly from the fertile grounds in the Barents Sea and around Norway and Iceland. But the species is of huge symbolic importance to the UK fishing industry, which employs about 24,000 people – more than half of them working in Scotland.

Ices, an international organisation of scientists from countries bordering the North Atlantic, advises governments and the industry on stock levels and the sustainable quotas that can be fished without endangering future stocks.

It sounded a warning last year with its recommended cut in the cod catch of 47%, but this year’s assessment – based on extensive scientific research – warned that levels were dangerously low and another two-thirds reduction was needed.

“It is unclear what the reasons are for this further work is required to investigate climate change, biological and fisheries effects,” the report said.

Environmental organisations point out that cod has been fished above its maximum sustainable yield in recent years, meaning the fish are taken from the sea faster than they can reproduce.

The species is not breeding as fast as it used to, too many unwanted “juvenile” fish are caught, and the practice of “discarding” – throwing dead fish back into the sea to keep within quotas – continues despite being banned.

With the end of the cod recovery plan, fishing vessels are now entering sites that have not been trawled for more than a decade, causing damage to the ecosystem, they say.

“This is a fishery that was on the road to recovery, but failures to reduce fishing pressure have led to serious overfishing and a reversal of fortunes for cod,” said Samuel Stone of the Marine Conservation Society.

“It’s a very harsh lesson, but this is why we need legally binding commitments to fish at sustainable levels, to effectively monitor our fisheries and to take an ecosystem approach to fisheries management. We have to properly protect our fish stocks for the benefit of our seas, coastal communities and consumers who expect sustainable seafood.”

The Marine Conservation Society, WWF and ClientEarth jointly wrote to the environment secretary on the day Ices published its advice, calling on the government to take urgent steps to secure the future of North Sea cod.

“As the country with the largest share [about 40%] of the North Sea cod quota, we require the UK to play a leading role in introducing emergency measures that minimise fishing mortality and maximise spawning potential. Only by doing this will the stock be enabled to recover,” their letter said.

Ices is an advisory body with no legal authority. Its advice will be the subject of negotiations between the coastal nations bordering the North Sea to determine the “total allowable catch”, or quota, for cod next year.

Brexit is a further complicating factor, of course. In the 2016 referendum campaign, the fishing industry became a symbol of the Leave campaign, which claimed it would be a clear beneficiary of its “take back control” message.

The EU common fisheries policy was held up as an example of European bureaucrats dictating to the UK fishing industry what it could and could not do in the country’s coastal waters. But marine experts point out that fish do not respect national boundaries, and therefore the industry needs coordinated international management.

“Species like cod are ‘shared stocks’,” said Phil Taylor of Open Seas, which works on protecting and recovering the marine ecosystem.

The popular meal was described by Winston Churchill as “the good companions”. Photograph: Neil Langan/Alamy Stock Photo

“After we leave the EU we will have greater control of how fishing takes place at sea. But the buck will then land squarely at the feet of UK and Scottish ministers. We may have greater control, but we will also have greater responsibility and accountability.

“It will be completely within the gift of our ministers – whether they take a short-term, smash and grab approach to fish stocks or manage these fisheries more fairly to protect the environment and yield the best long-term profit from the system. We require an urgent transition towards more sustainable seafood.”

Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said the industry was “100% committed to sustainable fisheries for the very obvious reason that anything else would spell the end for hundreds of businesses that sustain so many of our coastal communities”.

The latest challenge on cod stocks could be overcome by “responsible, practicable measures”, he added. “It will not be easy, and many sacrifices will have to be made along the way. But we will succeed, and when this country is no longer in the common fisheries policy we will be able to set our own more meaningful and stringent sustainability goals and ensure that it is our fishing boats that will have first call on quota.”

The MSC acknowledged that the drop in cod stocks was “disappointing news” for the industry. But, said the MSC’s Erin Priddle, “it is imperative that effective measures are introduced to secure long-term sustainability of this iconic and ecologically important fishery … protecting North Sea cod for this and future generations must be a key priority for all involved”.

Consumers, said the MSC, could continue to eat cod it has labelled as sustainable. If the auditors decide next month to suspend the certificates, the change would come into force towards the end of October.

The impact of such a move will be felt mainly in supermarkets, fishmongers and restaurants where sustainability is an important factor for conscientious consumers. In the nation’s chippies, 90% of the cod served is imported. “There will be less UK-caught cod, but even before the Ices advice, we’ve always imported most of the seafood we eat,” said Aoife Martin of Seafish, which supports the UK seafood industry.

A “huge variety of amazing seafood species” was caught by UK fishers, she said, but about 80% was exported. Monkfish, scallops, lobster and crab were in demand in Europe and Asia – “Koreans love UK whelks” – but “either we don’t catch the fish we want to eat here in the UK, like tuna, or we don’t catch enough to meet demand, such as cod”.

According to the National Federation of Fish Friers, one in five Britons make a weekly trip to the chippie. But big hikes in the price of fish in the past few years are putting the industry under pressure.

“Every day shops are going up for sale. A lot are really struggling, but it’s tight for everyone,” said Andrew Crook, the federation’s president.

The first fish and chip shop is believed to have been opened by Joseph Malin, a Jewish immigrant, in east London around 1860. Another businessman, John Lees, is also credited as a fish and chip pioneer, selling the dish from a wooden hut at Mossley market in Lancashire as early as 1863.

A traditional Friday treat in Salford in 1974. Photograph: Mirrorpix/Getty Images

It soon caught on. By the 1930s, the number of fish and chip shops across the country had reached about 35,000. In The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell credited the ubiquity of much-loved fish and chips as one of the factors in averting revolution.

During the second world war, the government ensured that fish and chips were never rationed. Winston Churchill described the constituents of the dish as “the good companions”.

Traditional takeaway fish and chips, seasoned with salt and vinegar and eaten with fingers out of newspaper wrappings, sometimes accompanied by a pickled onion, have long been superseded by polystyrene cartons, plastic forks and sachets of sauce.

Now the dish is also served in miniature portions at glamorous parties, and it has a place on the menus of expensive restaurants as well as pubs and seaside cafes.

Fish and chips is ingrained in the nation’s identity, said Crook.

“You remember eating fish and chips with your grandparents on the seafront in Blackpool or Margate, but you don’t remember your first kebab. There’s a romance to it, and a sense of theatre, as well as being a comforting and nutritious meal.”

The looming Ices decision on cod could, however, take its toll. At a cafe in Peterhead run by the Fishermen’s Mission, Kyle Wood said that if cod was deemed unsustainable, “supermarkets will take it off their shelves”. “There’ll still be fish and chips, but there’s bound to be an impact on price and availability,” he said. “It will be a big struggle for the industry.”

Eat them to death

An invasive is any species introduced by human intervention that has caused economic or ecological damage by growing superabundant in a nonnative habitat. Invasives can be fish, bivalves, mammals or plants. They can be as sinister as kudzu (&ldquothe plant that ate the South&rdquo) or innocuous as dandelions. They can be as delicious as wild boar as unappetizing as the parasitic sea lamprey sucking blood from native fishes in the Great Lakes (they&rsquore a delicacy in England) or entirely inedible, like the tiny zebra mussels clogging pipes and choking native shellfish throughout the upper Midwest.

Invasive species have followed us around the globe for as long as we have been mobile. They&rsquove hitched on the hulls of transoceanic ships, and we&rsquove carried them home with us deliberately, introducing them for food, farming and recreation. Invaders are now the second-most important cause of global biodiversity loss after habitat destruction, and the more we move about, the more they spread. Conservative estimates have invasives costing the U.S. tens of billions of dollars annually.

Among the first scientists to promote gastronomy as a tool to combat invasion was Joe Roman, a conservation ecologist at the University of Vermont. His 2004 article for Audubon, entitled &ldquoEat the Invaders,&rdquo articulated a simple argument: If we can hunt native species to extinction, as we have for eons, why not deploy our insatiable appetites against invaders?

Roman&rsquos modest proposal had little impact when it first appeared. Yet as interest in food ethics, locavorism and foraging grew, the elegant logic of &ldquoinvasivorism&rdquo hit a cultural sweet spot. In 2005 Chef Bun Lai created an invasive species menu for his sushi restaurant, Miya&rsquos, in New Haven, Conn. In 2010 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration launched its &ldquoEat Lionfish&rdquo campaign to combat the species&rsquo invasion of the Caribbean. In 2011 Food & Water Watch hosted an invasive species banquet at the James Beard House in New York City. In 2012 Illinois extracted 22,000 metric tons of invasive Asian carp and sold it to China, where it is commonly eaten, for $20 million.

Other projects have taken a more participatory approach: The University of Oregon&rsquos Institute for Applied Ecology hosts an annual Invasive Species Cook-Off (aka Eradication by Mastication) Web sites such as by Matthew Barnes, a biologist at Texas Tech University&mdashand Roman&rsquos own site,, promote home recipes for exotic species. Even Whole Foods has gotten onboard in 2016 the upscale grocer added lionfish to the shelves and started promoting it as &ldquoan invasive species&rdquo in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, &ldquofar from its native waters.&rdquo

How You Can Help

You can contribute significantly in Atlantic salmon recovery by implementing best management and land stewardship practices.

Maintain forested areas next to rivers and streams to provide shade, nutrients, and cover to support Atlantic salmon and other fish.

Maintain native plants along waterways, which support healthy forests and keep dirt and other materials out of streams. Dirt fills in spaces between rocks that Atlantic salmon use to lay eggs and hide from predators.

Avoid removing wood from Maine waterways and their banks. Wood provides important habitat for Atlantic salmon and other fish to feed and find shelter.

Participate in programs to conserve land and water resources for Atlantic salmon habitats.