Hopes fade for north­ern cod stocks

Times Colonist - - Business - MICHAEL Mac­DON­ALD

HAL­I­FAX — Hopes have been dashed for a recovery of the on­cemighty north­ern cod stock off New­found­land, a lead­ing con­ser­va­tion group says.

Three years af­ter sci­en­tists con­firmed there were signs of a come­back and catch lim­its were in­creased, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment de­cided this week to re­duce the limit. Ot­tawa cited a spring stock as­sess­ment that found the cod pop­u­la­tion had de­clined 30 per cent af­ter seven years of re­build­ing.

How­ever, Oceana Canada said the 9,600-tonne catch limit an­nounced Tues­day — a 25 per cent re­duc­tion when com­pared with last year — is still too high.

“There were some frag­ile signs of recovery,” said Robert Ran­ge­ley, a marine bi­ol­o­gist and science di­rec­tor for Oceana Canada. “All those hopes were dashed in the as­sess­ment this spring.”

North­ern cod were once the back­bone of New­found­land and Labrador’s 400-year-old fish­ing in­dus­try. But the pop­u­la­tion col­lapsed in the early 1990s be­cause of over­fish­ing, mis­man­age­ment and chang­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions. A fish­ing mora­to­rium im­posed in 1992, which was even­tu­ally ex­tended to other ground­fish stocks, wiped out more than 30,000 jobs. It was the largest mass lay­off in Cana­dian his­tory.

Within a year, the en­tire $700-mil­lion en­ter­prise — and way of life — was gone.

But there were ini­tial signs of recovery in 2012, and by 2015 the catch lim­its started to in­crease — that year’s limit was 4,400 tonnes, less than half of what it is now.

Ran­ge­ley said the biomass of the north­ern cod pop­u­la­tion is now es­ti­mated at around the same lev­els as in 1992. “The pro­jec­tions for next year are no bet­ter [be­cause] this stock isn’t grow­ing,” Ran­ge­ley said in an in­ter­view Wed­nes­day. “It’s well un­der the crit­i­cal zone. It’s pretty scary.”

The prov­ince’s largest fish­er­men’s union is ar­gu­ing that the new catch limit amounts to a “dra­matic re­duc­tion” that will hurt coastal com­mu­ni­ties that rely on the fish­ery as a key source of in­come.

Keith Sul­li­van, pres­i­dent of the Fish, Food and Al­lied Workers union, said the March stock as­sess­ment had con­cluded the fish­ery was hav­ing no im­pact on the tra­jec­tory of the stock.

“This de­ci­sion [to re­duce the catch limit] ig­nores so­cioe­co­nomic con­sid­er­a­tions for hun­dreds of com­mu­ni­ties in our prov­ince and the thou­sands of peo­ple who rely on coastal re­sources,” he said in a state­ment late Tues­day.

“With­out it, out­mi­gra­tion will con­tinue and ru­ral life will be a thing of the past, with no in­dus­try to sup­port it.”

The union said the lat­est re­search in­di­cates the pop­u­la­tion de­cline can be mainly at­trib­uted to nat­u­ral mor­tal­ity and not fish­ing pres­sure.

Ran­ge­ley said he was aware that coastal com­mu­ni­ties are heav­ily re­liant on the fish­ery, but he in­sisted that tougher mea­sures were needed.

“What will they be re­ly­ing on when there’s no fish?” he said. “I un­der­stand those com­mu­ni­ties want to catch more cod, but they would catch a lot more if that stock were al­lowed to re­build.”

The fed­eral ap­proach ig­nores sci­en­tific ad­vice to re­duce fish­ing pres­sure to the low­est pos­si­ble level, he said. As well, the ad­vo­cacy group said there should be no recre­ational cod fish­ing un­til the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is able to mon­i­tor catch lev­els in that fish­ery.

Fed­eral of­fi­cials an­nounced Tues­day the recre­ational ground­fish fish­ery, which opens June 30, will in­clude 39 fish­ing days — a re­duc­tion from the 46 days al­lowed last year. A spokesman for fed­eral fish­eries was un­avail­able for com­ment Wed­nes­day.

A fish­ing boat is moored in Neddy Har­bour at Gros Morne Na­tional Park, N.L.

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