Thursday, April 18, 2013
20-Years Later, Canada's Cod May Be Gone For Good
We've waited two decades for east coast cod stocks to rebound. Now researchers say they haven't and they're not going to.
"Here we are more than 20 years after the cod was effectively depleted, and according to our analysis, the recovery of the cod stocks is highly improbable,” says fisheries scientist Jeffrey Hutchings at Dalhousie University, co-author of the study published in the journal Science on Thursday.
He and his colleagues looked at 153 fish and invertebrate species around the world that have been so overfished their populations declined below their maximum sustainable yield, a measure determined by the United Nations’ Law of the Sea treaty.
The “good news” is that the study found marine fish are surprisingly resilient and stocks will rebuild to healthy levels if fishing is cut back at the first sign of over-exploitation.
The “bad news” is that recovery depends on “responsible management” which the researchers say is often in short supply.
We still don’t have targets for sustainable fisheries despite commitments Canada has made since 1995,” says Hutchings.
“The tendency has been to delay, delay, delay fishing cuts,” says co-author Julia Baum, at the University of Victoria.
The study found the longer cuts are postponed, the more uncertain recovery of the fishery becomes.
[Hutchings] and other fisheries biologists have been calling on the federal fisheries department to set and enforce sustainable targets for all Canada’s marine fisheries from herring to flat fish.
They also say a recovery plan for the East Coast cod is long overdue. The fishery collapsed more than two decades ago in what Hutchings describes as “the greatest loss of a vertebrate in Canadian history.”
“It had enormous biological and economic and social consequences that I fear we are starting to forget,” says Hutchings, recalling how thousands of fishers were thrown out of work.
The federal government now permits four small commercial cod fisheries on the East Coast, three of which Hutchings says should not be allowed to operate given the depleted state of the stocks.