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Cusk in the Kitchen

Jan 5, 2012
Winter 2012

In December 2011, GMRI (on behalf of NMFS) conducted a two-day workshop on a species that usually does not get much attention, the Atlantic cusk.

Currently, the cusk fishery stock assessment is data poor, and in 2004 it was listed as a "species of concern" by NMFS. Scientists hope that by reducing bycatch and increasing the survival of discards, cusk can avoid being listed as "endangered". The workshop explored ways to improve available information on cusk and identify ways to reduce bycatch and mortality.

Highlights from the workshop included an overview of industry-based research with exciting video footage gathered by fisherman Marc Stettner and GMRI researcher Graham Sherwood. Participants discussed habitat and survey options and limitations, as well as gear types for reducing bycatch. Maine Department of Marine Resources(DMR) staffer, Trish DeGraaf, dissected a cusk on day two.

Innovative ideas from the workshop include performing a deeper analysis of vessel trip reports and observer data to enhance the cusk stock assessment. An industry-based longline survey might also provide much needed information on habitat, which if applied with discreet area research in the Penobscot Bay and Stellwagen Bank areas, may help build a clearer understanding of the cusk life cycle.

Of particular interest was the effect of barotrauma, the physical impact on a species that is caught in deep waters. NMFS scientist, Bonnie Rogers, kept everyone enthralled with a rather graphic presentation on just what happens to rockfish (similar to cusk) from research she has done on the West Coast. Cusk, like rockfish, inflate their swim bladder when they surface. However, Roger's research shows that when rockfish are quickly returned to their bottom habitat the physical impacts are actually reversed and increases the probability of survival.

Both the commercial lobster and recreational industry representatives at the meeting were interested in testing this theory using cameras and tagging to monitor the results. It was suggested that lobstermen place cusk caught in their lobster traps in the "kitchen" side of the lobster trap and return traps to the bottom as quickly as possible, to reduce the effects of barotrauma with minimal investment in gear changes. 

If you are interested in becoming involved in cusk research contact Kate Burns at or (207) 228-1637.

For additional information:

NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center Status of Cusk Fishery Resources off of the Northeastern U.S.