Atlantic Groundfish Council proposes a simple, predictable and patient approach to Northern Cod catch limits

(April 11, 2019 – St. John’s, NL) – This week, the Atlantic Groundfish Council submitted a proposal for the Northern Cod (2J3KL) Stewardship Fishery that would provide predictability for fishery participants and signal to world markets that Canada is committed to the sustainable recovery of the iconic stock.

In past years when assessments predicted modest increases of fish at reproductive age, subsequent catch increases were too risky and aggressive for a stock still deep in the Critical Zone. The approach proposed by the Council would ensure that doesn’t happen again.

“We urge DFO not to make significant catch increases to Northern Cod based on projected growth of the stock. Instead, we all need to have patience to see if those projections will translate to actual growth,” explains Kris Vascotto, Executive Director. “This is especially true during periods of environmental fluctuations and ecosystem changes. For example, the growth that was projected with certainty in 2016 and resulted in a doubling of catch, was never realized.”

The Atlantic Groundfish Council proposal recommends maximum Stewardship Fishery catch levels be set directly according to the actual stock status (subjected to projected continued growth):

  • Catch limit of 10,000t when Spawning Stock Biomass (SSB) is between 25-50% of the Limit Reference Point (LRP)
  • Catch limit of 15,000t when SSB is between 51-75% of the LRP
  • Catch limit of 20,000t when SSB is between 76-100% of the LRP
  • Once the LRP is reached and the stock moves from the Critical Zone to the Cautious Zone, catch would then increase significantly with greater confidence.

Since SSB is at 48% in 2019, that would place this year’s stewardship catch limit at 10,000t, with an increase next year if the projected growth trajectory is confirmed to be real. As was seen in this years stock assessment, the real catch is often 40-50% higher than DFO’s catch cap once all fishing sources (i.e., stewardship fishery, recreational fishery, discards and bycatch) are considered.

“We continue to be strong advocates for protecting the sustainability of the resource first and foremost,” explained Alberto Wareham, member of the Atlantic Groundfish Council and President of Icewater Seafoods in Arnold’s Cove. “Not only do the world markets we depend on for premium pricing demand sustainably-sourced seafood, but if the fishery is to provide for people and communities for generations to come, it has to be fished sustainably.”

Despite projected slow growth and a risk of a downturn in 2020, some groups continue to advocate for significant catch increases, ranging from 100%-350%. This is causing concern and drawing criticism from environmental organizations and sustainably-conscious industry members.

“We don’t know if the removals discussed in the 2019 assessment are sustainable yet because they’re based on projections. Once we see the actual stock growth, we can confidently explain to our European customers that larger increases in catch are sustainable,” explains Wareham, the single largest buyer of cod in Newfoundland and Labrador and one of only a few in the world approved to sell to UK retailer Marks & Spencer. Maintaining those markets is a critical element of the fishery because without European markets, the price per pound of cod paid to harvesters could be cut in half.

The Atlantic Groundfish Council is asking others to remember that Northern Cod is a ‘Stewardship Fishery’, not a ‘Commercial Fishery’. The stock still hasn’t recovered from the collapses in early 90s and early 2000s. That’s the reason it remains a ‘Stewardship Fishery’ and its purpose, as stated by DFO in its establishment is ‘to bring the perspectives of harvesters and scientists closer together’.

Ocean Choice President Blaine Sullivan, whose family has been harvesting cod for generations, added, “In times of uncertainty, we need to be guided by patience and doing the right thing for the resource. We are pleased to see academic experts, respected industry members and environmental groups aligned with our view that we need to go slow on Northern Cod.”


Sarah Fleming, Atlantic Groundfish Council,

Spawning Stock Biomass – quantity of fish at reproductive age
Limit Reference Point – the level at which the stock is considered healthy enough to support a commercial fishery

About the Atlantic Groundfish Council

The Atlantic Groundfish Council (formerly GEAC) is a non-profit industry association representing year-round groundfish harvesters in Atlantic Canada. Its members employ thousands of people, in mostly year-round jobs, in rural communities throughout Atlantic Canada. The Council contributes to research that will improve the sustainability and management of groundfish fisheries by actively supporting science, sustainability certifications and responsible management.