As DFO releases annual science update on Northern Cod, Atlantic Groundfish Council members are focused on aiding stock recovery through world class cod acoustic tracking project

Today, the updated science assessment for the iconic Northern Cod stock (zone 2J3KL) was presented to industry and stakeholders by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.  The assessment demonstrated that the stock has been holding steady since 2017 and is projecting some growth in the near future.

“The projected stock growth is encouraging but also highlights our need for patience,” explained Kris Vascotto, Executive Director of the Atlantic Groundfish Council.  “We’d all like to see drastic improvements today but we know it won’t recover overnight or over a single year. Collectively, that’s why we continue to exercise restraint and focus our efforts on contributing to its future recovery. While being better informed by projections, we should not actually increase the catch until such projections have been realized.”

The Atlantic Groundfish Council’s members are primarily family-owned businesses. Those families, like the Sullivan’s of Calvert and Wareham’s of Placentia Bay, have been harvesting and processing cod for generations.

“Our commitment to the recovery of this resource runs deep. We are focusing our efforts on robust initiatives that will promote sustainable management of Northern Cod,” added Blaine Sullivan, President of Ocean Choice, referring to the Atlantic Groundfish Council’s and Association of Seafood Producers’ Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) for Northern Cod. “Our Fishery Improvement Project is filling knowledge gaps identified collectively by industry, academia and government whom all act as advisors on this Project.”

The FIP notably includes a world class acoustic tracking project that will help define the migration patterns of Northern Cod stock components between the slope of the continental shelf and inshore areas near NL. Progress on the Project has continued safely despite the COVID-19 pandemic, including the tagging of 260 cod and deployment of 75 acoustic receivers throughout the stock area in 2020. In the days and weeks ahead, an additional 960 acoustic tags will be deployed in cod aggregation areas far offshore by scientists from DFO and the Ocean Tracking Network (OTN), with assistance from local harvesters.

Data from the acoustic array will be collected by a solar powered wave glider, controlled remotely by experts at OTN. Each receiver station will be visited by a glider, which will upload its data, including a record of each time each tagged cod swam nearby. Once collected, this information will inform future stock assessments and fisheries managers by showing when cod arrive and depart from the offshore and potentially what path they travel; resulting in a better understanding of their interactions with the fishery and the environment.

It’s an ambitious project but an important one for the future of cod in the province.

“At Icewater Seafoods, we’re all-in on cod. We have a world class plant in Arnold’s Cove that runs nearly year-round based solely on cod. Our equipment and 225 cod-experts rivals those of top cod plants in the world because we are one of the top plants in the world ourselves,” explained Alberto Wareham, President and CEO of Icewater Seafoods.

Being all-in doesn’t mean Wareham or other members of the Council are advocating for higher catch limits. In fact, they’ve done the opposite for years.

“In our plant, we have the capacity to double our cod throughput, but capacity doesn’t trump the importance of sustainability. We continue to advocate for setting conservative, sustainable catch limits that follows the best available science. That applies to Northern Cod the same as it does 3Ps cod off the south coast of Newfoundland. We need to have a long-term view, and we do,” Wareham added.

With DFO releasing its rebuilding plan for Northern Cod late last year, the annual catch levels will now be set according to the Harvest Decision Rule, meaning, the health of the stock predetermines the annual catch limits. Based on the stock being at 52% of Blim at this year’s assessment, that means this year’s stewardship fishery catch should not exceed 12,999 mt.

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Sarah Fleming, Director of Communications
Atlantic Groundfish Council
709.725.5830, sfleming@atlanticgroundfish.ca