Atlantic Cod no longer Floundering?

Since I joined WWF in 2008 this topic has been haunting me. It is a goal with a history of effort behind it that I inherited from the beginning. In fact when I decided to take on the directorship for the Atlantic region, I honored my predecessor with a bottle of Yellowtail wine. This may have been a positive omen, or quite possibly the workings of a nerdy conservationist who never misses an opportunity to talk about work, even during a farewell party.
In any event, Ocean Choice International’s (OCI) Grand Banks Yellowtail Flounder trawl fishery has been certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). In previous years, the Yellowtail Flounder fishery was responsible for a significant level of bycatch (the unintentional catch of non-targeted species) of Grand Banks Cod, a stock which has been under moratorium since 1994.

Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) aquaculture, Newfoundland, Canada (c) Gilbert Van Ryckevorsel/WWF-Canada
OCI earned the coveted MSC eco-label because, in response to mounting pressure from international retailers to source sustainable fish, they departed from a “business as usual” approach, to assume a leadership role in the Northwest Atlantic. During the MSC certification process OCI underwent for their Yellowtail Flounder, it was identified that the company had voluntarily committed to minimizing bycatch of Cod in the Yellowtail fishery by using measures such as selective fishing gear to reduce cod bycatch. These measures have allowed OCI to significantly reduce the bycatch of Cod in its Yellowtail fishery. The company is on the fast track to demonstrating sustainable marine stewardship of all its fish products. With the addition of the Yellowtail Flounder fishery, it is on track to having more than two-thirds of its fish product portfolio under the globally recognized MSC umbrella.
So, the MSC certification of the Yellowtail Flounder fishery is very good news for consumers who, now more than ever, are looking for sustainable seafood options. For some great seafood recipes from Newfoundland and Labrador, may I suggest, Joan Over’s 2003 book “The Newfoundland and Labrador Seafood Cookbook” which includes a number of Yellowtail Flounder recipes in the Flatfish section.
The MSC certification of the Yellowtail Flounder fishery is also an important step in the recovery of Cod stocks off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador (NL). As many of you know, the collapse of the Cod fisheries on the Grand Banks and off other parts of NL has often been described as one of the worst, if not the worst, fisheries disasters in history. The ecological and economical impacts were enormous, turning what was once NL’s currency into a symbol of social upheaval and fisheries mis-management. But, after years of effort on many fronts to recover the Grand Banks Cod stock, it has recently been showing early but promising signs of recovery. Now is the time to ensure that management measures, such as recovery plans, are put in place to rebuild Grand Banks Cod and other fragile stocks off NL. This will pave the way toward sustainable stewardship of cod fisheries, and allow our seafood industry to continue to sell an iconic product to eco-conscious retailers and consumers.
Yellowtail flounder (Limanda ferruginea) in Atlantic waters, St. Margarets Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada (c)
While there is still much to do in regard to sustainably sourced seafood and the recovery of Grand Banks Cod, now is a good time to pause for a little celebration, with the hope that one good news story will be followed by another. Please stay tuned for WWF’s continued efforts in the recovery of NL’s cod stocks. And as we celebrate this success, perhaps someone should pass along a bottle of Newfoundland Screech as a potential forerunner of more good things to come…..