Follow science advice to keep Northern cod quotas at lowest possible levels, don’t compromise its recovery - Oceana Canada

Follow science advice to keep Northern cod quotas at lowest possible levels, don’t compromise its recovery

Press Release Date: April 11, 2019

Today, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) held a meeting with representatives from the fishing industry, Indigenous rights holders, the scientific community and non-governmental organizations to discuss this year’s fishing quota for the severely depleted Northern cod fishery. 

A four per cent increase in the population’s spawning biomass was announced last week, prompting calls to increase Northern cod quotas by as much as 30 per cent in 2019. Oceana Canada urges DFO to follow its own scientific advice and keep fishing pressure at the lowest possible level to give this population a chance to recover, decades after its collapse. 

Oceana Canada’s Director of Science, Dr. Robert Rangeley, released this statement after today’s meeting:

“A small increase in Northern cod’s biomass does not mean DFO should quickly increase harvest levels. 

While a trend of incremental increases is positive, we must proceed with caution because Northern cod is fragile and in the early stages of rebuilding. It is deep in the critical zone, where it has been for decades, and is at less than 50 per cent of the biomass that would move it into the cautious zone. Northern cod’s ability to rebound is further compromised by historically low recruitment, ecosystem changes and low prey availability.

In 2018, the commercial fishery harvested more than 9,000 tonnes, and – due to inadequate monitoring and unreliable estimates – an additional unknown but significant amount was fished recreationally. 

Despite this, Northern cod does have a chance to recover if DFO follows its own scientific advice to keep fishing pressure at the lowest possible level and implements a rebuilding plan that follows globally recognized best practices.

The alternative is to prematurely ramp up harvest levels, as was done in the past, at the expense of rebuilding a resilient and sustainable fishery. 

Commercial fisheries are an important source of income for many people, and rebuilt fish populations provide much greater benefits to fishing communities and ocean ecosystems.”


For more information, please contact: 

Kathleen Munro, Consultant, Pilot PMR at 416.462.0199 x250 or 902.789.3165,

Northern Cod Fact Sheet

  • For centuries, Atlantic cod supported massive fisheries, drove economies and fed millions. During the 1990s, most cod stocks collapsed in Atlantic Canada.
  • Today, most of the remaining populations, including Northern cod, are deep in the critical zone and are assessed as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).  These fish populations are less resilient to factors such as climate change, reduced food availability and predation. 
  • Decades after its collapse, Northern cod is still without a rebuilding plan to sustainably manage the fishery and support the recovery of its population to the healthy zone.
  • Although Northern cod continues to be officially under moratorium, total reported landings in 2017 were 13,452 tonnes and 9,269 tonnes in 2018. Catch levels from the recreational fishery are estimated at 30 per cent of reported commercial fishery landings in Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s 2018 Science Advisory Report.
  • Northern cod’s spawning stock biomass is less than half the limit reference point (48 per cent), the number at which it would move out of the critical zone and into the cautious zone. 
  • Although its biomass has increased in recent years as recruitment of new fish into the population has increased, recruitment remains relatively low with the recent average at 20 per cent of the pre-collapse period.
  • Northern cod currently mature when they reach five years old and can live up to 26, but few fish over 15 years old are seen today. 
  • The future of Northern cod’s food sources, including capelin and shrimp, are also uncertain. Starvation is a strong component of natural mortality in Northern cod.
  • To date, there are 26 critical-zone stocks in Canada, only five of which have rebuilding plans. Of these, none meet global best practices for rebuilding. 
  • Oceana Canada has long-advocated for the rebuilding of Canada’s fish stocks and for the inclusion of rebuilding in the amended Fisheries Act, Bill C-68. 
  • This month, the Senate is reviewing amendments to the Fisheries Act, Bill C-68, which outlines new obligations and expectations and includes rebuilding for the first time in its history.

About Oceana Canada

Oceana Canada is an independent charity and part of the largest international advocacy group dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana Canada believes that Canada has a national and global obligation to manage our natural resources responsibly and help ensure a sustainable source of protein for the world’s growing population. Oceana Canada works 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.