Cod overfished in the North-West Atlantic despite ban

Posted on 20 September 2005

According to a new WWF report, illegal fishing disguised as accidental fish catch banned from commercial use is threatening to wipe out remaining cod stocks in the Grand Banks off Canada’s east coast.
Gland, Switzerland – Illegal fishing disguised as accidental catch of fish banned from commercial use is threatening to wipe out remaining cod stocks in the Grand Banks off Canada’s east coast, warns a new report by WWF, the global conservation organization. 
The Grand Banks fisheries, once home to one of the world's most abundant populations of cod, collapsed in the 1990s, leading to a total fishing moratorium for this species in 1994.

However, the report Bycatch on the High Seas: A review of the effectiveness of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization shows that despite the ban over 13,000 tonnes of cod and other fish, including American plaice and redfish, are taken every year as bycatch — the accidental capture of non-targeted fish.

In 2003 alone, 5,400 tonnes of cod were caught as bycatch in the southern Grand Banks — about 90 per cent of the total population in that area and a 30-fold increase in bycatch since the fishery was closed. 
Fishermen usually throw overboard unwanted marine species but are allowed to keep a small percentage of commercially valuable fish caught accidentally, which can be sold for profit.

According to WWF, this has led to massive abuse as many vessels are purposefully operating in areas where fishing of species such as cod is banned but their accidental catch very likely to happen. The report shows that in some cases bycatch can make up as much as 80 per cent of the landed catch, leading to huge profit increases. 
"When there is a fishing moratorium most people believe that endangered fish stocks are protected, but this is not the case," said Dr Robert Rangeley, Director of WWF-Canada's Atlantic Marine Programme.

"The current level of cod bycatch clearly means that this species has little chance of recovery in the Grand Banks." 
The WWF report criticizes the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) for mismanaging the fisheries under its control. It says that in eleven of these fisheries, where fishing is totally or partially banned because of depletion of their fish stocks, there are little signs of recovery, mainly because of the bycatch issue. 
WWF is calling on the Canadian government and other NAFO nations to immediately take measures that will reduce the bycatch of cod on the southern Grand Banks by 80 per cent, protect sensitive habitats, such as corals, from fishing, and address overcapacity (too many boats chasing too few fish), which is a root cause for overfishing and bycatch. Canada has an added responsibility to ensure protection of species such as cod, as much of the Grand Banks waters lie solely within its jurisdiction. 
"We need to act swiftly in order to restore the awesome productivity of the Grand Banks region," said Dr Simon Cripps, Director of WWF’s Global Marine Programme.
"If we continue to allow wasteful fisheries practices, fish stocks will never recover and coastal communities will continue to suffer. The Canadian government and NAFO fishing nations must act now in order to save our fisheries." 
• The Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) includes 13 countries: Canada, Bulgaria, Cuba, Denmark, France, Iceland, Japan, South Korea, Norway, Russia, the US, and the EU representing Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, and Spain. Their fleets are fishing on the high seas and straddling Canada’s 200-mile limit in the region of the Grand Banks off Canada’s east coast. NAFO is holding its annual meeting in Tallinn, Estonia from the 19–23 September 2005.

For further information:
Kyle Ferguson, Communications Manager
Tel: +1 416 484 7728
Sarah Bladen, Communications Manager
WWF's Global Marine Programme
Tel: + 41 22 364 9019
Claire Doole, Head of Press
WWF International
Tel: +41 22 364 9550
Illegal fishing is threatening remaining cod stocks in the Grand Banks off Canada’s east coast.
© WWF / Mike R Jackson
Discarded catch by a deep sea trawler in the North Atlantic.
© WWF / Mike R Jackson