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MEDIA RELEASE: Northern Cod Update Lacks Crucial Information on Recruitment and Mortality

April 17, 2020

April 17, 2020

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) released the stock status report for the 2J3JKL northern cod stock today without stakeholder input and a lack of key information concerning the stock. FFAW-Unifor continues to call on the federal government to take immediate action on seal predation and to implement consistent rebuilding plans.

“We understand that the worldwide pandemic has certainly impacted many things, including the way DFO conducts its science assessments. The traditional roundtable was understandably unable to take place this year, however, stakeholders were not given any opportunity to provide input or feedback into this science report which is certainly unacceptable. There are other available avenues to be able to contribute without meeting face to face,” says Keith Sullivan, FFAW-Unifor President.

“DFO Science has suggested that stock growth for northern cod has stalled, but this is not what harvesters are seeing on the water nor is it what the data itself indicates. Harvesters have seen an abundance of small cod, which are incoming recruits. Additionally, the data in the update provided today shows clear signs of growth,” explains Sullivan.

The 2019 RV Survey, which is one of the primary indicators used to measure stock growth, was heavily impacted by weather, particularly in 3K, which calls into question the accuracy of the limited data. Furthermore, DFO did not run the assessment model to estimate spawning stock biomass, natural mortality or fishing mortality in the 2019 update.

DFO Science cited a decrease to large fatty zooplankton but failed to note that there has been an overall increase to the zooplankton biomass and the positive trajectory for zooplankton abundance. Similarly, DFO Science highlighted higher incidence of cod cannibalism as a possible indicator of reduced feeding opportunities but not as indicative of an increase in the amount of small cod, which was observed by harvesters.

“We always see lots of small fish, but last year that abundance was even greater, while still seeing lots of large fish as well,” said Albert Wells, Inshore Council member from Wild Cove (3K), who also participates in the Cod Sentinel Survey.

Despite no updated estimates of natural mortality, natural mortality remains the concerning factor for the 2J3JKL cod stock, as with the other important fish stocks around Newfoundland and Labrador. DFO recently released an update on harp seal population that showed significant and steady increases to the seal population, particularly on the northeast coast of NL where 95% of pup production occurs.

Although there was no update fishing mortality estimates, given removals relative to the size of the stock, they must have remained low. The catch of this stock from all sources has averaged about 2 per cent of the fishable biomass in the last number of years; lower than any other cod stock in the world – even though it is the third largest in the world.

Stock Years Range of SSB (t) Blim SSB (2018) F (2018)
2J3KL Cod 1983-2019 10,000 – 893,000 851,000 398,000 <0.02
Barents Sea 1946-2016 106,000 – 2,693,000 220,000 1,233,772 0.4
Iceland 1959-2017 121,603 – 936,657 125,000 668,111 0.26

“Northern Cod, if managed responsibly and in collaboration with industry, has the potential to provide significant opportunity for a sustainable fishery,” concludes Sullivan.