September 15, 2011 15:38 ET

Bycatch Slowing Down Grand Banks Cod Recovery

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA--(Marketwire - Sept. 15, 2011) - The Atlantic cod population on the Grand Banks, southeast of Newfoundland is showing the early signs of recovery, according to a report by the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization's (NAFO) scientific council in 2010.

As the annual meeting of NAFO is about to begin on September 19th in Halifax, Nova Scotia, WWF cautions fisheries managers that they shouldn't consider rushing to reopen the cod fishery that has been under moratorium since 1994. They must first finalize the promising interim cod conservation plan and rebuilding strategy that was developed by NAFO's scientists and managers over the course of the past year.

This small window of opportunity for the cod rebuilding strategy to make a difference could easily be lost to the high amount of cod fished as bycatch in other fisheries. Reducing bycatch by 50 percent is the key to cod recovery, combined with protection of habitats and other ecological important areas such as spawning and nursery grounds.

NAFO has demonstrated leadership by protecting coral and sponge habitats and seamounts, but they have fallen behind on their 2006 international commitments to protect other vulnerable marine ecosystems, such as spawning grounds, as called for by United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions.

There is hope for a comeback of Grand Banks cod. A scientific study published in July 2011 showed that Atlantic cod off Nova Scotia are recovering from their dramatic collapse two decades ago — and that the ecosystem is recovering with them. This is a good indicator for the future of fisheries on the Grand Banks.

"It's an encouraging sign after decades of seeing little-to-no recovery of a cod population that was once a central part of the region's fishing industry. But this ongoing ecosystem recovery is at risk if NAFO doesn't reduce the amount of allowable cod bycatch."

Dr. Bettina Saier, Director, Oceans Program WWF-Canada

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To view WWF's Recommendations for NAFO's Annual Meeting visit:



  • Although the current course for recovery of southern Grand Banks cod is positive, it is still just 21 percent of what is considered to be a sustainable level for the stock.

  • The bycatch of Grand Banks cod increased from 600 tonnes (t) in 2006 to 1100 t in 2009. It showed a slight decrease in 2010 to 946 t.

  • WWF has highlighted the problem of bycatch in two influential reports tabled at NAFO's 2006 & 2007 annual meetings.

  • The UNGA resolutions 61/105 (2006) and 64/72 (2009) call for the prevention of significant impacts on vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs), through impact assessments. To date, no comprehensive impact assessments have been conducted by NAFO member states.

  • The 2008 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-Sea Fisheries in the High Seas provides the criteria for the identification of VMEs, which includes, inter alia: spawning grounds; certain coldwater corals; some types of sponge dominated communities; seamounts; and canyons.

  • In 2010, the 10th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) requested the CBD Secretariat and regional fisheries management organizations, such as NAFO, to co-organize regional workshops before 30 April 2012 with the primary objective to identify ecologically or biologically significant areas. This Annual Meeting provides the only opportunity for NAFO to meet this deadline.

  • NAFO underwent a performance assessment review in 2011 that concluded "more transparent information on why any measures have come to be adopted should be provided, especially when these measures appear to be inconsistent with Scientific Council advice."

  • WWF has been involved with NAFO since 2005 with the goal of recovering the Grand Banks ecosystem

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