There is consensus in the fishing and science communities that the distribution and movement of cod in the Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank and southern New England regions are not well understood and that greater insight into current distribution and migration patterns of Atlantic cod is needed as managers work to rebuild stocks.

One way to address these questions is by tagging, releasing and recapturing fish. There has been no broad-scale tagging effort on cod in U.S. waters since at least 1959, and there is a possibility that movement patterns described by earlier studies have changed. Despite extensive tagging done between 1984 and 1997, primarily in Canadian waters of Browns Bank, northeast Georges Bank, Grand Manan and southwest Nova Scotia, large sections of the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank remain where up-to-date tag recapture information is not available.

An international team of researchers has been assembled from the Maine Department of Marine Resources, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Island Institute, Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association, Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth School of Science and Technology to address these questions.

As a neutral, independent entity, the Gulf of Maine Aquarium has been awarded a contract by the National Marine Fisheries Service to provide overall project coordination and data collection for this project.

The objectives of the Northeast Regional Cod Tagging team are to develop a collaborative cod-tagging program between scientists and fishermen in the Gulf of Maine area, including Canada; to obtain and analyze data from tagging recaptures to enhance understanding of cod distribution and movement patterns in the Gulf of Maine and to establish a preliminary understanding of cod movements and stock structure. This last objective should enable researchers to develop a testable hypothesis for continuing tagging studies.

Over 50,000 fish will be tagged during the study.

Beginning the spring of 2003 cod will be tagged in five known areas of spring aggregation in U.S. waters: Cashes Ledge and Fippennies Ledge; eastern Gulf of Maine from Mt. Desert Island out to Browns Bank; Cape Cod and Great South Channel; Georges Bank and the Northeast Peak; and the Nantucket Shoals and Coxes Ledge area.

Canada began tagging cod in 2001-2002 in the Bay of Fundy, off Grand Manan, off Shelburne, Nova Scotia and the Scotian Shelf, and Georges and Crowell Basins in anticipation of a parallel effort in U.S. waters. This comprehensive program will take advantage of lessons learned from the Canadian tagging work and other ongoing cod tagging projects in the region.

If you are interested in contributing to this effort, especially if you take codfish in your lobster gear in midcoast or downeast Maine, or would just like more information, please contact Benjamin Neal at the Island Institute in Rockland, (207) 594-9209.