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Empty Nets

Fisheries may be crippling themselves by targeting the big ones

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6:30pm, May 31, 2005

In the 1850s, 43 schooners from a single port, Beverly, Mass., plied the North Atlantic's Scotian shelf, which is prime cod territory in Canadian waters. Over the sides of the ships, crews dropped lines with single hooks and doggedly jigged their bait along the seafloor to entice the big predatory fish. Although the combined fleet used fewer than 1,200 hooks, the ships' logs indicate that these vessels hauled in more than 7,800 metric tons of cod from a portion of the shelf each year. That was some 625 metric tons more cod than the 90 modern ships fishing the entire Scotian Shelf—a far larger area than the Beverly crews covered—landed in 1999.

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