Aly Thomson’s article “Some fish species may never bounce back,” April 19, underscores the reluctance of our Department of Fisheries and Oceans senior management in Ottawa to take action and implement sustainable ocean habitat recovery programs. The study, which looked at 153 fish and invertebrate species, found that most could recover within a decade if swift action is taken to stop overfishing.
As we are well aware, the response to the cod collapse in Newfoundland and Labrador was the cod moratorium in the early 1990s. When cod showed indications of some recovery in the late 1990s, there was considerable political pressure to reopen the fishery. This was shortly followed by another collapse and closure in the early 2000s, followed by small-scale cod fishery from 2007 to the present.
Many in Newfoundland and Labrador associate cod recovery and caplin recovery with ocean recovery — that is, if we are seeing more cod and more caplin, then ocean habitat must be recovering. However, it has become clear from current habitat-based research that the foundation for cod recovery is based in identifying, supporting and protecting ocean areas containing a full range of biodiverse species in abundance.
Establishing conditions for such key ocean habitats to rebuild the ocean food web is necessary if recovery of large-scale commercial fish stocks such as cod and other groundfish species is to be realized.
Other countries and jurisdictions have proven that there are steps which can be taken to turn this situation around, the primary step being the establishment of large closed areas and no-take zones.
Norway established no-fishing zones when they started catching large quantities of small cod approximately 15 years ago. They expanded the no-fishing zones dramatically over the ensuing period to the point where, in 2011, they had 1.1 million square kilometers of ocean closed to all fishing activity.
During the same period, their cod stocks recovered dramatically, with quotas set at 700,000 metric tonnes in 2010 and 2011. This year their cod quota has been set at one million tonnes.
Similarly, other jurisdictions in the North Atlantic such as the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Scotland and the United States have all implemented no-
fishing zones and all have experienced recoveries in their ocean habitats and commercial fisheries
Over the past 10 years or so, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans has attempted, under the Oceans Act, to implement a recovery strategy using closed areas, marine protected areas and no-take zones. The strategy has been met with stiff opposition from oil companies, fishing companies and some fishermen.
The ocean is the most powerful and resilient natural system on the planet. It is probably the single largest force which permits human life. Newfoundland and Labrador’s long-term economic future is tied directly to developing sustainable commercial fisheries and employing appropriate fishing technologies and fishing practices to maintain it.
We need to urge our leaders, be they political, business or otherwise to take the appropriate steps to rethink our current fisheries management practices and policies which are not sustainable and replace them with ones that are.
The Atlantic Ocean off our shores is an extremely valuable asset. We need a vision and a plan to protect and restore its reproductive and renewable capacity for the benefit of this and future generations.
Fred Winsor is conservation chair with Sierra Club Canada. He writes from St. John’s.