Goodbye, fish and chips? New England haddock imperiled by overfishing

Fisherman David Goethel sorts cod and haddock while fishing in 2016 off the coast of New Hampshire. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

PORTLAND, Maine — A staple seafood species caught by East Coast fishers for centuries is experiencing overfishing, and regulators have cut catch quotas by more than 80% to prevent the fish’s population from collapse.

Haddock are one of the most popular Atlantic fish, and a favorite for fish and chips and other New England seafood dishes.

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But fewer haddock will be caught in New England this year after regulators cut fishing quotas. A recent scientific assessment found that the Gulf of Maine haddock stock declined unexpectedly, and that meant the catch quotas for the fish were unsustainably high, federal fishing managers said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration added the Gulf of Maine haddock stock to its overfishing list last month. The New England Fishery Management Council, a regulatory board, has lowered catch limits of the fish in an attempt to halt the overfishing, said agency spokesperson Allison Ferreira.

However, numerous fishers said the assessment doesn’t match what they’re seeing on the water, where haddock appear to them to be plentiful. And the warning from the federal government arrives as more New England fishers rely on haddock than in previous decades because of the collapse of other seafood species, such as Atlantic cod.

“We seem to find plenty, but they can’t,” said Terry Alexander, a Maine-based fisher who targets haddock and other species. “It’s a disaster is what it is. A total, complete disaster.”

The fishery management council mandated the 84% reduction in catch quotas for the current fishing year, which started May 1.

Americans are still likely to find haddock available despite the cuts because most of it is imported, according to federal data from 2021. Some countries that export haddock are also cutting quotas this year. But recent announcements of cuts by major exporters have been much lower than in the Gulf of Maine.

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