Gulf of Maine Cod Project

The Gulf of Maine Cod Project (GMCP), based at the University of New Hampshire, is a multi-year research project that utilizes historical documents and archaeological data to document long-term changes in the marine environment and to establish biological indicators and population trends for fishes in the Northwest Atlantic region.

In 2001, GMCP began an interdisciplinary study of the historical marine ecology of the Gulf of Maine. Several interconnected projects comprise this study, each with a different, but complementary focus. Initially, support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s History of Marine Animal Populations Program (HMAP), which is part of the Census of Marine Life (COML), funded historical and scientific analyses of over 2000 19th-century New England cod fishing vessel logbooks. Modeling catch and location data extracted from a sample of logbooks, we generated a biomass estimate for Scotian Shelf cod in 1852.

New Hampshire Sea Grant is currently sponsoring a similar study of the inshore Gulf of Maine cod fishery in the 1850s and 60s. Data from vessels fishing inshore grounds is being extracted and aggregated in order to estimate biological indicators for cod, determine migration patterns and the proximity of sweet fishing spots to the shoreline, and identify micro-banks important for spawning or feeding. Data from logbooks provide an unprecedented degree of geographic specificity and can be used to indicate variations in Gulf of Maine marine habitats.

In 2004, GMCP created a Geographic Information System (GIS) in order to display and analyze historical fishing data. Using charts of fishing grounds published by U.S. Fish Commissioner George Brown Goode in 1887 and Walter Rich in 1929, as well as baseline data including modern bathymetric contours, navigational charts, North Atlantic Fishing Organization (NAFO) fishing zones and Large Marine Ecosystem (LME) zones, the GIS was developed for visualization and comparative analysis of modern and historical fisheries data. This mapping project received support from the Mia J. Tegner Memorial Research Grant in Marine Environmental History and Historical Ecology.

In 2004, GMCP was a recipient of a National Science Foundation grant that seeks to identify traditional knowledge systems inherent in the fishing families and communities represented in fishing vessel logbooks. The project investigates further the contingent factors that influenced choice and risk-taking by fishermen in the mid-19th century. Understanding family fishing strategies has proved to be essential for locating the probable fishing regions of some Gulf of Maine vessels. Data generated by the NSF research project, as well as data from other GMCP research projects, is stored and managed in an online database on this website.

GMCP is now partnering with NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program to survey historical documents that contribute significantly to the history, legacy and understanding of marine resource exploitation and management in the United States. This study extracts historical data to identify what can be known about the abundance and distribution of past marine species and ecosystems. Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Maine, a maritime gateway to one of the earliest and most important English North American settlements, is a pilot study for this research program. The study of human interaction with the marine environment will result in a geographical, ecological, and social history of Stellwagen Bank.