Chapter 3. Effects of climate change and commercial fishing on Atlantic cod Gadus morhua

Adv Mar Biol. 2009;56:213-73. doi: 10.1016/S0065-2881(09)56003-8.


During the course of the last century, populations of Atlantic cod Gadus morhua L. have undergone dramatic declines in abundance across their biogeographic range, leading to debate about the relative roles of climatic warming and overfishing in driving these changes. In this chapter, we describe the geographic distributions of this important predator of North Atlantic ecosystems and document extensive evidence for limitations of spatial movement and local adaptation from population genetic markers and electronic tagging. Taken together, this evidence demonstrates that knowledge of spatial population ecology is critical for evaluating the effects of climate change and commercial harvesting. To explore the possible effects of climate change on cod, we first describe thermal influences on individual physiology, growth, activity and maturation. We then evaluate evidence that temperature has influenced population-level processes including direct effects on recruitment through enhanced growth and activity, and indirect effects through changes to larval food resources. Although thermal regimes clearly define the biogeographic range of the species, and strongly influence many aspects of cod biology, the evidence that population declines across the North Atlantic are strongly linked to fishing activity is now overwhelming. Although there is considerable concern about low spawning stock biomasses, high levels of fishing activity continues in many areas. Even with reduced fishing effort, the potential for recovery from low abundance may be compromised by unfavourable climate and Allee effects. Current stock assessment and management approaches are reviewed, alongside newly advocated methods for monitoring stock status and recovery. However, it remains uncertain whether the rebuilding of cod to historic population sizes and demographic structures will be possible in a warmer North Atlantic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Atlantic Ocean
  • Climate Change*
  • Commerce
  • Ecosystem*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Fisheries*
  • Gadus morhua / physiology*
  • Population Dynamics
  • Reproduction / physiology
  • Temperature
  • Time Factors