Atlantic Groundfish Council Reiterates Commitment to Sustainable Recovery of Northern Cod

Year-round harvesters caution that 2020 catch should be limited to 2019 catch of 10,000mt

(April 22, 2020 – St. John’s, NL) – The industry group that represents year-round groundfish harvesters across Atlantic Canada is reacting to the 2020 Northern Cod (2J3KL) science assessment released by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) on Friday. While industry continues to be focused primarily on implementing robust safety measures for the 2020 fishing season in light of COVID-19, annual work such as science assessments and industry briefings are important to the future of the fishery. The work by DFO to ensure science updates continue during these unprecedented times is appreciated.

The Northern Cod science update demonstrated that the biomass showed virtually no change over last year, continuing to be in the critical zone, at about 50% of the Limit Reference Point (LRP) (i.e., 50% of the point in which the stock is considered healthy enough to support a full commercial fishery). Scientists now refer to a “stalled recovery”, pointing out challenges with the ecosystem for cod growth.

“The information provided by DFO suggests the stock recovery has stalled and cod productivity will be further challenged in 2020,” says Kris Vascotto, Executive Director. “Although this could change in the future, without any signs of stock growth we cannot, in good conscience, increase catch in 2020.”

In 2020, the Atlantic Groundfish Council is recommending a catch of no more than the 10,000mt landed in 2019. This is a 19% reduction of the 12,350mt catch limit permitted in 2019 but consistent with the actual amount caught by harvesters. Although the stalled recovery is caused by nature, it is important to monitor and continue to limit fishery removals as they are the only removals within industry’s direct control. If the poor ecosystem conditions continue and the productivity of cod does not improve, a further reduction in catch could be needed as soon as next year.

The Atlantic Groundfish Council has recommended a cautious, go slow approach to the catch of Northern Cod since the potential recovery was first identified in 2016. The Council and its members share a relentless commitment to the recovery of Northern Cod and a sustainable fishery for generations to come.

Leaders in the industry, including Alberto Wareham, President and CEO of Icewater Seafoods in Arnold’s Cove, NL, hope that when industry makes recommendations and the government makes decisions, they remember how aggressive catches can hurt recovering stocks. Even though the plant is operating at less than 50% capacity and depends solely on cod, the company is not interested in seeing an increase in catch in 2020.

“My view is the same as it has been in previous years. We must exercise restraint; we must focus on the long-term and take great care in monitoring this stock to support a sustainable recovery,”
Wareham insisted.

Ocean Choice President Blaine Sullivan, whose family has also been harvesting cod for generations, agreed, “We believe Northern Cod can recover. But we need to be patient and allow it to reach a full and sustainable recovery. Centuries of fishing for cod has taught us we need to protect the stocks if they are to be there for future generations.”

The Council and its members continue to make substantial contributions towards the recovery of Northern Cod in the form of the multi-year, multi-million dollar ASP-AGC Fisheries Improvement Project (FIP). The FIP includes the $8.5M Northern Cod Acoustic Tracking Project, an innovative acoustic tracking project which aims to answer critical questions around migration patterns, migration timing, location of spawning aggregations, stock productivity and managing exploitation rates.