On December 21, 2020, after more than a decade of consultation, Fisheries and Oceans Canada released a rebuilding plan for critically depleted northern cod – one of Canada’s most storied species. The plan falls far short of outlining steps to rebuild cod to healthy levels as it does not outline steps to rebuild it out of its collapsed state, called the “critical zone.”
Recent studies demonstrate significant economic and employment benefits when population growth is met with precautionary quotas and strong conservation measures: northern cod could rebuild in as little as 10 years, providing 16 times more jobs and be worth up to five times more than today.
Instead of investing in this potential recovery, the current plan allows fishing to increase while this stock is still deep in the critical zone – the level below which Fisheries and Oceans Canada policy says stocks should never fall and below which fishing should be kept to the lowest levels possible. The plan is silent on measures to rebuild the stock out of the critical zone, let alone into healthier and more abundant territory that could benefit Newfoundland and Labrador communities for generations to come. Today, this cod population is still under moratorium and has grown only halfway out of the critical zone since its collapse nearly 30 years ago.
While there are some helpful elements in this long-awaited plan, including a rule to guide harvest decisions, which should take some of the uncertainty out of annual quota setting, it simply fails to include the fundamental elements necessary to rebuild stocks:
• There is no plan or guidance on how and when decisions will be made to get the stock out of the critical zone.
• There are no timelines associated with the plan and only an interim target. Both targets and timelines are requirements for rebuilding plans.
• There is no target for rebuilding to a healthy level, or even a reference point to establish what would constitute a population size large enough to support a sustainable commercial fishery.
• The plan does not incorporate the latest science, which demonstrates that population growth is stalled and that fishing mortality is the main cause.
• The plan acknowledges that cod are starving but identifies no steps to address this. Cod are dependent on capelin, a critically important and depleted forage fish, and without precautionary management of both cod and capelin, neither will benefit.
This plan falls short of Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s existing rebuilding policy guidelines and fails to meet the legal requirements and intent of Canada's newly released draft Fisheries Act rebuilding regulations, despite being published just days before the draft regulations were released. In its current form, the plan ensures that cod populations will continue to stagnate at dangerously low levels, depriving communities of the opportunity to benefit from a rebuilt fishery.
Consumers around the world are demanding sustainably sourced fish. If Canada seriously wants our “blue economy” to be a big part of Canada’s commitments to a green economic recovery, we must keep up with global best practices. Rebuilding the cod fishery is possible.
Oceana Canada urges Fisheries and Oceans Canada to update the cod rebuilding plan to meet its own policies and the standards set out in the Fisheries Act to ensure abundant cod stocks and a lucrative fishery for future generations.
To arrange an interview please contact: Tammy Thorne, Communications Manager, Oceana Canada, 437.247.0954, email@example.com.
Oceana Canada was established as an independent charity in 2015 and is part of the largest international advocacy group dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana Canada has successfully campaigned to end the shark fin trade, make rebuilding depleted fish populations the law, improve the way fisheries are managed and protect marine habitat. We work with civil society, academics, fishers, Indigenous Peoples and the federal government to return Canada’s formerly vibrant oceans to health and abundance. By restoring Canada’s oceans, we can strengthen our communities, reap greater economic and nutritional benefits and protect our future.