Bycatch slows recovery of Grand Banks Cod
Posted on 16 September 2011
After decades of little hope in what was once one of the world’s major fisheries, Atlantic Cod is showing signs of recovery on the Grand Banks off the coast of Canada. But WWF is warning that fisheries managers must not rush to reopen the cod fishery that has been under moratorium since 1994.Halifax, Nova Scotia: After decades of little hope in what was once one of the world’s major fisheries, Atlantic Cod is showing signs of recovery on the Grand Banks off the coast of Canada. But WWF is warning that fisheries managers must not rush to reopen the cod fishery that has been under moratorium since 1994.
The Atlantic cod population on the Grand Banks, southeast of Newfoundland, is showing the early signs of improvement, according to a report by the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization’s (NAFO) scientific council in 2010.
But although the current course for recovery of southern Grand Banks cod is positive, it is still just 21 per cent of what is considered to be a sustainable level for the stock.
Ahead of the annual meeting of NAFO on September 19th in Halifax, Nova Scotia, WWF is warning that fisheries managers must first finalize the promising interim cod conservation plan developed by NAFO over the past year.
“It’s an encouraging sign after decades of seeing little-to-no recovery of a cod population that was once a central part of the region’s fishing industry”, says Dr. Bettina Saier, Director of Oceans Program at WWF-Canada. “But this ongoing ecosystem recovery is at risk if NAFO doesn’t reduce the amount of allowable cod bycatch.”
Small window of opportunity
This small window of opportunity for the cod rebuilding strategy to make a difference could easily be lost to the high amount of cod caught as bycatch in other fisheries.
The bycatch of Grand Banks cod increased from 600 tonnes in 2006 to 1100 tonnes in 2009. Reducing bycatch by 50 percent is the key to cod recovery, combined with protection of habitats and other ecological important areas such as spawning and nursery grounds.
NAFO has demonstrated leadership by protecting coral and sponge habitats and seamounts, but they have fallen behind on their 2006 international commitments to protect other vulnerable marine ecosystems, such as spawning grounds, as called for by United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions.
A scientific study published in July 2011 showed that Atlantic cod off Nova Scotia are recovering from their dramatic collapse two decades ago — and that the ecosystem is recovering with them. This is a good indicator for the future of fisheries on the Grand Banks.
Collapse of the Grand Banks cod fishery
The Newfoundland Grand Banks, off the east coast of Canada, used to be famous as supporting some of the world’s most productive fisheries. Small boats caught sustainable amounts of cod for hundreds of years.
But as fishing methods advanced in the 1950s with the introduction of larger, new factory trawlers and warnings from scientists of the dangers of over-fishing went unheeded, eventually the amount of cod in the area reached record lows.
A total fishing moratorium was enforced, throwing about 40,000 people out of work and shattering the livelihoods of local fishing communities.
Smart Fishing Initiative
Since 2005, WWF has been involved with NAFO with the goal of recovering the Grand Banks ecosystem. WWF’s Smart Fishing Initiative works with every level of the fishing industry to reform commercial marine fisheries towards long-term sustainability - where seafood is harvested in a way that sustains and protects the marine environment, the species within it, and the people who depend on them.