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Melting Norwegian ice spawns massive surge in cod stocks

Racks of salted cod dry in the sun in Svolvaer, Norway. Fishermen and scientists here agree they’ve never seen as many cod as they’re catching now, and they say melting arctic ice is the reason.

Sheila Norman-Culp/Sheila Norman-Culp/Associated Press

Helped by a warming climate, Norway's near monopoly on the stuff of fish'n chips looks set to grow.

Fishermen and scientists here agree they've never seen as many cod as they're catching now, and they say melting Arctic ice is the reason.

Researchers have said the receding ice has opened up larger areas of shallower Arctic water in the Norwegian Sea and the Barents Sea into which young fish are fleeing predators. They confirm their test catches from a globally warmed Atlantic Current have turned up record numbers -- about 120 billion -- of yearlings destined to become commercial fish.

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Fishermen are mostly pleased with the development: "On behalf of future generations, I'm truly glad for the cod count," fisherman Kaare Ludvigsen told broadcaster NRK.

In contrast to Atlantic Canada, where the cod fishery collapsed in the 1980's due to overfishing, Norway's commercial cod banks are still the richest in the world. Coastal waters stretching into the arctic from the Lofoten Islands to the Spitsbergen archipelago are the spawning sites for three types of migrating cod schools.

That migration now runs farther north than ever, and Russian and Norwegian researchers have found birthing fish in latitudes beyond 82 degrees north.

Such is the cod's new clout that Norwegian fishermen are worried the seabed where the fish dine will be stripped clean for future generations of cod, just as they worried the Kamchatka crab, or king crab, had been bulldozing the cod's ecosystem. They asked for and received larger catch quotas to make room for other commercial fish, as their three-species winter fishing season starts to roll.

Mr. Ludvigsen's fishermen colleagues met in Trondheim this week to discuss whether there were "too many" fish in the sea and agreed to more than double their catch in 2012 to 751,000 tons.

Norway exported a record 1.12 billion kroner ($201.7-million) worth of wild cod in September, but not since the frugal years just after the Second World War have there been such abundant catches.

In the Arctic, meanwhile, seasonal ice flows have shrunken to their smallest covering in 8,000 years, according to a recent German study.

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Norway, meanwhile, has pressed its commercial maritime rights nearly to the North Pole and won recognition for its claims at the United Nations in New York.

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