Northern cod, one of the world’s largest and most iconic fisheries, was instrumental in the development of the New World by Europeans in Canada. Excessive fishing combined with ecosystem change led to the collapse of cod in the 1990s, resulted in the largest lay-off in North America with 30,000 lost jobs in Newfoundland and Labrador. The socio-cultural fabric of the province was shaped by this 500 year old fishery, the loss of livelihood resulted in the alteration of a people’s way of life. From the species perspective the decline and subsequent collapse of the Northern cod stock represents one of the world’s worst ecological disasters.
Over the past 25 years, the only northern cod pulled from our waters has been caught by other directed fisheries as bycatch; by an in-shore cod stewardship fishery; by scientific fishing sets and in recreational fishing activity. However, there is reason for optimism around the future of a commercial fishery. Recent biomass indicators show significant improvement in stock biomass– though still well below biomass limit for direct commercial fishing–and positive stock indicators, such as age profile. Environmental conditions are also generally positive for the stock.
LAUNCHING THE NORTHERN COD FISHERY IMPROVEMENT PROJECT
In April 2015, WWF-Canada embarked on a fishery improvement project (FIP) to bring back Newfoundland and Labrador’s northern cod stock, signing a landmark agreement with the largest private-sector union in the province, the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) Union. Formalizing our partnership with the FFAW, which represents harvesters, was the first major step in launching a five-year initiative to improve the sustainability of the only existing northern cod fishery—a small-scale, stewardship fishery with around 9,600 metric tonnes of annual landings—so that it may enter into the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification process. WWF-Canada and the FFAW also secured support for the FIP from the Seafood Producers of Newfoundland and Labrador, Fogo Island Co-op and the NL- Groundfish Industry Development Council.
The FIP process formally commenced in November 2015 with a MSC pre-assessment that identified the issues that needed to be addressed to improve the sustainability of the stock. A stakeholder meeting that included participants from all sectors of the industry was held in September 2016 to help develop a FIP action plan to tackle the problems in the fishery. The Action plan was launched publicly in December 2016 that includes the necessary actions to address the issues of concerns in the fishery, responsible parties and timelines. In 2017 we shall commence the implementation of the activities identified in the Action Plan to address the issues and concerns that were identified in the pre-assessment. Our goal is to move the current fishery towards a sustainable viable full scale commercial fishery that will benefit the people and communities that depend on it to thrive.
Northern cod, one of the world’s largest and most iconic fisheries, was instrumental in the development of the New World by Europeans in Canada.
The main objectives of the 2J3KL cod stewardship fishery area as follows:
1. By December 2021 the historic and now depleted northern cod stock will be at sustainable levels, meeting the MSC or equivalent standard for global seafood sustainability.
2.Once the stock has reached sustainable levels in 2021 there will be long-term economic benefits acheived for harvesters and local communities which are struggling with declining shrimp and crab resources.
3. The FIP will achieve a high level of sustainability necessary for the fisheries – and the communities and the people that depend on them – to thrive by 2021.
FIP at a Glance