The long road to cod recovery

By Robert Rangeley
During these 20 years there should have been plenty of time to learn lessons and change practices so that all fisheries are sustainably managed and species at risk are firmly on the road to recovery. But we’re not there yet. And many frequently ask me: “will cod ever recover?” and “is there any hope that fisheries will ever be sustainable?”

Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) in an aquarium setting, Canada. © J. D. Taylor / WWF-Canada

The simple answer is ‘yes’! There is hope for cod and other fisheries if we put in place the right sorts of plans for recovery and long-term sustainable use.
And that’s why WWF has been working in the Atlantic region for over 11 years. Based in our Halifax and St. John’s offices we’ve worked with the fishing industry, scientists and fishery officials to find ways to protect habitats, reduce bycatch and other threats to species at risk in Canadian waters and the adjacent high seas.
And there are positive signs. Recent research surveys have discovered big spawning cod off the Newfoundland coast. And this is significant as cod may be a bellwether for the health of the northwest Atlantic ocean.
Other positive news is the progress made in two exciting advances for marine conservation that WWF has spearheaded: one has taken hold around the world and the other we are planning to pilot on the Grand Banks. While it’s still early days, in the last couple of years we are starting to see a rapid transformation in how business is conducted on the water.
The first is that sustainably caught seafood is catching on. Consumers are demanding it. Retailers and major processors are telling their suppliers they will only source from the best-managed fisheries. How do they know? Well, 15 years ago WWF and Unilever created the Marine Stewardship Council. That organization sets the standards that work and MSC is a reliable means by which consumers can identify sustainable seafood products in the marketplace.
Our next big challenge is to marry positive market forces with innovative financing mechanisms for investment in conservation that works for both nature and people.
WWF recently published ‘Raising the “Sunken Billions”: Financing the transition to sustainable fisheries’ in Marine Policy which details the means for establishing a Financial Institution for the Recovery of Marine Ecosystems (FIRME) as an ecosystem-scale solution that finances conservation without adversely impacting livelihoods.
By providing loans to cover the upfront costs of conservation, the FIRME will allow fish populations the time to recover and ultimately generate profits exceeding the original investment.
Our Oceans and our Planet are facing critical environmental challenges but with the right kinds of actions that everyone can get behind, I am confident we can meet, and beat, the challenges head-on.
We have to.
Want to know more about WWF’s work on Grand Banks cod recovery? See: