HALIFAX — For almost 30 years, iconic Atlantic cod has been deep in the critical zone – where it remains.
Following Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) virtual meetings to assess the status of the fabled fish stock that has been under moratorium for almost three decades, ahead of this year’s quota announcement, Oceana Canada has released this statement.
“Northern cod growth remains stalled. To successfully rebuild this fragile fish population to a healthy level, fishing mortality needs to be kept at the lowest possible level – this is something DFO agrees on,” said Dr. Robert Rangeley, Science Director, Oceana Canada. “Yet the long overdue rebuilding plan DFO finally released at the end of last year offers no guidance on how they plan to rebuild the stock out of the critical zone, let alone to healthy levels."
Population growth has decreased in recent years as cod face poor environmental conditions including effects of climate change and declining availability of prey such as capelin. In turn, this has led to an increase in cod starvation and cannibalism. Besides being a crucial source of food for cod, capelin is an essential part of a healthy ocean ecosystem. Oceana Canada has called for a pause on the capelin fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“Without precautionary management of both cod and capelin, neither stock will be given the best chance possible for recovery,” said Rangeley. “When DFO published the rebuilding plan for northern cod in December 2020, we thought hope was on the horizon – but after seeing the plan, we know that it cannot succeed in changing things on the water. The plan has no timelines and only an interim target. It does not incorporate the latest science and while the plan acknowledges that cod are starving it fails to identify steps to address this, or steps to rebuild the population out of its collapsed state, known as the “critical zone."
Amendments to the Fisheries Act, passed in 2019, include a mandate to rebuild depleted fish populations. This law must be backed by strong regulations, which are currently being developed. Without strong regulations and decisive steps to rebuild, our depleted stocks such as northern cod will continue to languish. In addition, Canada’s national Fishery Monitoring Policy must be implemented for northern cod, prioritizing the recreational fishery to obtain the information necessary to support the management of sustainable fisheries.
Rebuilding the cod fishery is possible. Oceana Canada urges Fisheries and Oceans Canada to update the cod rebuilding plan to meet the intent of the Fisheries Act – and its own policies.
Long-term planning can lead to greater value and more sustainable fisheries. If we give the ocean an opportunity to recover to abundance, it will.
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.