BACKGROUNDER: Concerns with Sudden Shift in 3Ps Cod Assessment Model

Limit Reference Point (LRP) and the Precautionary Approach Framework

To understand the issues with the sudden shift in interpretation of science, it is important to know what the Limit Reference Point is, and how it fits into the Precautionary Framework’s Critical, Cautious and Healthy Zones.

Uncertainty of the new 3Ps stock assessment model

The health of fish stocks is generally determined by an assessment model that incorporates information from harvesters and surveys to provide an understanding of the long-term trajectory of the stock. In late 2019, DFO discarded the assessment model that had been in use for 3Ps cod for over a decade. It was replaced by a new model that, despite acknowledged challenges, was used to establish a new Limit Reference Point. This has significant implications.


Under the original assessment model The new assessment model
·       The 3Ps cod stock was:

1.       Seen to have recovered from the lows observed in the 1990s

2.       Assessed at 1.5 times, or 150%, of the Limit Reference Point (LRP) in 2018.

·       This meant that while the stock was lower than the 1980s, it remained capable of supporting a sustainable fishery.

·       Re-casts the history of the stock:

1.       Claims a steady decline in stock status since the 1990s, which is in contradiction to previous perspectives of the stock, DFO’s own RV survey data and harvester reports.

2.       Redefines the reference points which the health of the stock was assessed against, placing the stock at only 0.24 times, or 24%, of the LRP in 2019

·       Places the stock below the LRP since 2001.

This contrast is significant because the new assessment model suggests the stock is heavily depleted when there has been no substantive change in stock indicators between 2018 (when stock was 150% of LRP) and 2019, (where the stock is assessed at 24% of LRP).


An example of one of the specific shortcomings with the new model

  • Beginning in 1995, the new model becomes guided by the longline sentinel survey indices, which is acknowledged to not be a proportional reflection of the entire stock, largely for two reasons:
    1. Spatial Limitations – sentinel survey covers only a small area of the 3Ps stock area and is focused outside of where the fishery occurs, or the stock resides.
    2. Selectivity Limitations – This survey can’t sample small fish – only big fish. This is a problem because smaller fish indicate recruitment for future years, meaning that the strong year classes that carried the fishery from 2000 to today aren’t even seen in the model.
  • The observations of the DFO Annual RV survey (in which it DFO has invested millions of dollars) is being given less credibility than other lower-confidence surveys. This is concerning because compared to the limitations above, the DFO RV survey:
    1. Provides a balanced, standardized whole-stock area assessment using a standard gear year after year, capable of sampling all life stages and environment (i.e., no spatial limitations)
    2. Captures the status of all life stages of cod, including those strong recruitment pulses that carried the fishery (managers need to know about new, smaller fish coming into the population to assess the risks of todays decisions)
  • The result is that important information on stock performance and recruitment seen in the DFO surveys and fishery are absent from the new assessment model trajectories, making it appear that the stock has been poorly managed for nearly two decades – if not longer.

Assessment Model Challenges Put Industry Participants in a Difficult Situation

  • The assessment team recognized the challenges of the most recent science assessment and committed to addressing these challenges for the 2020 assessment.
  • Until a resolution is achieved and a full understanding of the implications of the decisions are understood, industry is expected to make management recommendations based on a model acknowledged to be challenged, with the knowledge that revisions in the next 12 month may significantly impact the very data streams considered when making recommendations on total allowable catch (TAC) (i.e., terminal recruitment, mortality and biomass estimates).
  • The Atlantic Groundfish Council and its members are committed to making the right decision for the sustainability of the stock based on good information. The uncertainty of the current approach is hampering the ability to identify what is the right decision for the stock and the fishing and processing community that relies upon it.