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N.L. cod stocks still deep in critical zone

A bucket of codfish is loaded from a fisherman’s boat.
A bucket of codfish is loaded from a fisherman’s boat.

Northern cod stocks continue to rebound, but we’re still deep in the critical zone, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

But despite DFO’s warning that fishing should be kept to “the lowest possible levels,” a representative of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (FFAW) says it’s time for a significant increase in quota.

Karen Dwyer, aquatic science biologist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, says Northern cod stocks increased by seven per cent between 2015-16.

Aquatic science biologist Karen Dwyer explained the results of DFO’s stock status update in divisions 2J, 3K and 3L Monday. She said the total biomass of the species rose by seven per cent from 2015-2016. But total biomass isn’t everything; DFO also monitors the percentage of stock that is mature, producing eggs and recruits. That number has increased from three per cent of the limit reference point in 2005 to 34 per cent in 2015, with a current spawning biomass at 300,000 tonnes. It won’t be until the spawning biomass reaches 900,000 tonnes that Northern cod will leave the critical zone and land in the cautious zone, said Dwyer.

“It’s good news, but it’s still in the lower half of that critical zone,” she said. “Also from this model from last year, projections indicated that growth would continue over the next few years, so also good news.”

Dwyer said while it may be cause for optimism, some patience is in order. DFO conducts its full assessments every three years, and is not able to predict trends further ahead.


Call for increased quota

David Decker, secretary-treasurer for FFAW-Unifor, said there’s nothing modest about the rebound, which he thinks calls for an increase in quota.

David Decker, secretary-treasurer of FFAW-Unifor, says recent DFO data shows the current fishery is not affecting the rebounding of cod stocks.

“Certainly we feel there’s need for a significant increase in that this year,” he said, adding the numbers make it clear the fishery is having no impact on the rebounding of the stocks. “I think the commercial fishery was probably around two per cent exploitation rate, when in a healthy stock you’d be at 18, so there’s a need to increase that quota this year very clearly, because we can’t wait three to four years, five to six years until we got a rebuilt stock. Because then we will have a fishery with no value to the communities.”

He said communities need to transition from shellfish and Northern shrimp and rebuild a groundfish fishery.

“That includes gradually increasing our quotas, in line with the increase in stocks. So what’s very important right now is we take a certain amount of the gains we’re making and use it to rebuild an industry, and continue to rebuild these groundfish stocks,” he said.

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