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MEDIA RELEASE: Limit Reference Point for Northern Cod Fails to Capture Historical Data, Harvester Observations

January 29, 2019

ST. JOHN’S, NL – Today the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) held a technical briefing on the Limit Reference Point (LRP) for 2J3KL Northern Cod. The LRP is the boundary between the critical and cautious zones, and the purpose of the meeting was to evaluate whether how the LRP was developed is appropriate and if the LRP is still valid.

There were no changes to the LRP as a result of the meeting, however, DFO did not have a full analysis of available data completed in order to make a change.  DFO Science’s LRP is based on the average of spawning stock biomass in the 1980’s, which they argue is the last period of moderate recruitment. There are fundamental problems with this approach.

DFO is continuing to ignore information from harvesters regarding the health of the Northern Cod stock in the 1980s.  Twenty-five years later, DFO’s assessment model shows Northern Cod collapsed practically overnight, between January and May of 1992 when the fishery was closed – the biggest layoff in Canadian history.

“Based on harvester observations on the water at that time, the decline began earlier than the Department asserts and yet this information is still being ignored. If DFO Science doesn’t recognize these past mistakes, are we doomed to repeat the story of the 1990s?” questions FFAW-Unifor President Keith Sullivan.

By the mid-1980s, harvesters repeatedly expressed concerns that the stock was in trouble. They saw their catch rates dropping. They saw changes in the size and availability of fish. This is a well-documented chapter of Newfoundland and Labrador history.

The stock has grown from 10,000mt spawning stock biomass to over 300,000mt today. Harvesters are certainly seeing more cod now than they did during the late 1980s.

“Although that knife-edge drop in 1992 is shown in the currently accepted assessment model for Northern Cod, this interpretation remains controversial among both harvesters and scientists. It is time that we revisit how, when and how fast the Northern Cod collapsed,” says Dr. Erin Carruthers, FFAW-Unifor Fisheries Scientist.

“This work is too important, and a complete analysis must be done quickly. We have to resolve our understanding of what happened during the collapse. That is the crux of our differences today.  It is more important than ever to listen to harvesters.  We have to learn from mistakes of the past, so they are not repeated in the future,” warns Sullivan.


For media inquiries, please contact:

Courtney Glode
FFAW-Unifor Communications