Canada’s legacy of fisheries management isn’t pretty. After all, we hold the title of the nation with the world’s largest fisheries collapse. When cod and other groundfish populations crashed in the early 1990s, coastal communities were financially devastated, and, as a country, we were left concerned about the future health of the oceans. Today, Twenty-five years later, we are still trying to learn from our mistakes.
Northern cod (Gadus morhua) along Newfoundland and Labrador's East Coast are showing signs of a comeback, but they are still well below historical norms. Because their population is increasing, there is a temptation to re-open the fisheries. But, if we are to prevent another collapse and learn from our past, we have to be able to distinguish between a fish population that is increasing and one that is recovered. When a population is increasing out of the critical zone, that is the time for more research, precautionary management and monitoring. This approach will help ensure the amount of fish keeps growing, with the aim of it becoming an abundant population, which, once recovered, can support a lasting and thriving fishery.
Scientists Sherrylynn Rowe and George A. Rose from Memorial University of Newfoundland released a public statement urging for this precautionary approach. Stating that they “strongly advise against stepping up fishing for Northern cod at this time. Doing so risks derailing long-term stock recovery and a rebuilt fishery.”
Oceana Canada is working to rebuild ocean abundance. We are actively campaigning to amend the Fisheries Act so that rebuilding plans would be required for all depleted fish populations –including Northern cod. Less than a quarter of Canada’s fish populations can be shown to be healthy but we know the potential for recovery is high. Robert Rangeley, Oceana Canada’s Director of Science, explains that “we can recover ocean abundance by supporting fisheries management policies that prioritize substantial reductions in directed fishing and bycatch mortality for all critically depleted stocks.”
Twenty-five years since the devastating collapse of the cod stocks, the government still has no rebuilding plan to provide target reference points, timelines or harvest-control rules. As Sherrylynn and George note in their statement, there was no stock assessment for Northern cod this spring and what data is available from Fisheries and Oceans Canada indicates that the so called ‘cod comeback’ may have stalled.
For now, we have to say ‘no’ to cod, but say ‘yes’ to a focus on sustainable fisheries management. This approach will help ensure a future for Canada that includes healthy oceans and thriving fisheries.