Science lacking in northern cod quota increase

HOLD your breath.
A week before World Oceans Day, Canada published an alarming notice on a back page of a DFO website announcing a 33% increase in the quota for the northern cod “stewardship” fishery. The allowable catch was raised from 3,750 pounds to 5,000 pounds per licence holder, increasing the total allowable catch in this fishery from about 3,000 tons in 2012 to 4,000 tons in 2014. It also seems that larger boats (45-60 feet) will be permitted this year, though they were not in previous years.

Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) aquaculture, Newfoundland, Canada. © Gilbert Van Ryckevorsel / WWF-Canada
Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) aquaculture, Newfoundland, Canada. © Gilbert Van Ryckevorsel / WWF-Canada

Remember that cod in this area has declined more than 99% since 1960. Sadly, the quota increase is no surprise. Nonetheless, it’s still shocking that fisheries management decisions made in Canada are so political, short-term and clandestine.
The cod fishery off Newfoundland’s east and northeast coasts, once famous for being the biggest in the world, was decimated by 1992, and John Crosbie announced a moratorium that effectively shut down all fishing. For the following 20+ years the cod population has remained at an extremely low level, with little sign of substantive recovery (yes, the most recent surveys indicate an increase in abundance over the past three years, but in relative terms, this is miniscule).
Isn’t there a lesson Canada should have learned by now from our neighbors to the south? The US, after all, successfully rebuilt overfished seafood stocks over recent years. This has brought big benefits. Likewise, everyone will benefit from the recovery of Canada’s cod resources.
WWF believes that fishing practices need to be reformed and stronger management measures need to be put in place in cod and other struggling fisheries before fishing quotas are raised.
However lucrative the Newfoundland cod quota increase may appear in the shortest time frame, the real benefits are limited to a few stakeholders who have the ear of Ottawa decision-makers.
Just as WWF board member Jeffrey Hutchings notes in this article, the hammer driving the nail deeper is a complete lack of science supporting this decision.