North Atlantic cod: the broad canvas
The catches of North Atlantic cod in the twentieth century are reviewed, with emphasis on the period since 1950 when landings statistics arc considered to have been highly reliable. Time series of landings data arc used to describe the historic development of the fisheries and the main events affecting catches. These are couplcd with a comparison of trends among stocks to distinguish environmental and climatic effects from fishery-induced changes. An overview of North Atlantic cod landings indicated that, following a highly productive period 1950-1965, the cod fisheries have subsequently suffered a protracted decline. Concomitant environmental changes would not be expected to cause a consistent decline in all cod stocks throughout their north-south climatic range; if some might have improved, others might not. Comparison of landings trends between various stocks provide some evidence of climatic effects; however, the very widespread decline in landings in nearly all stocks speaks in favour of increased fishing mortality as the dominant factor in recent years. The potential benefits of a precautionary management approach to rebuilding cod stocks is discussed and recommended.