September 16, 2009 07:00 ET

Catches of Endangered Grand Banks Cod Exceed Target by Over 500 Tonnes in 2008

Fisheries Organization can no longer ignore ineffective bycatch measures preventing cod recovery - WWF

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA--(Marketwire - Sept. 16, 2009) - New data shows that the amount of cod caught on the Grand Banks this past year exceeded the 420 tonnes bycatch reduction target set by Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) by over 500 tonnes, or a whopping 119 per cent.

At last year's meetings, NAFO delegates refused to set and enforce absolute bycatch targets, instead relying on voluntary measures by member countries to reach their target of reducing bycatch by 40 per cent. This target was estimated to be the maximum the cod population could withstand in order to still have a chance to recover. Despite this massive overshoot, the recovery of southern Grand Banks cod is not a top priority on the agenda at this year's annual meeting in Bergen, Norway, from September 21-25.

As voluntary measures have failed, WWF is calling on NAFO to use scientific advice to reduce bycatch and immediately implement a suite of stringent measures. Such measures would include spatial and temporal closures, absolute bycatch limits, and total allowable catches (TACs) that are in line with scientific advice.

"We can't continue to ignore these numbers," says Dr. Robert Rangeley, Vice-President, WWF-Canada, Atlantic Region. "Rebuilding fish stocks and ecosystems is possible if exploitation rates are reduced and effective controls are implemented in waters beyond national jurisdiction. By enforcing absolute limits on cod bycatch through a combination of gear restrictions and closed areas at this meeting, NAFO can provide the last chance for restoring this cod fishery."

NAFO delegates can turn to their host country, Norway, as a model of what happens when ecosystem based and precautionary approach management is followed, and sustainability and recovery plans are adhered to. Norway's cod longline fishery is the world's first Atlantic cod fishery to attain Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification, with an annual harvest of about 5,000 metric tons of cod. The benefits of this recovered fishery have impacted the country both economically and socially.

In addition to cod bycatch reduction, WWF is calling on NAFO to take concrete steps to meet their 2006 commitment to protect critical habitats and the health of the oceans. In 2008, limited steps were taken to provide protection for vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) within NAFO's regulatory area, but the damaging effects of fishing gear continue to impact oceans health and species recovery. A strong policy has already been put in place and VME areas have been mapped, so there is no reason why NAFO cannot implement effective protection measures during this meeting.

"Healthy and productive coastal communities and industries depend on healthy and productive oceans," says Gerald Butts, President and CEO, WWF-Canada. "By rebuilding the Grand Banks, we can sustain fish - and fishing communities - for future generations."

About WWF-Canada

WWF-Canada is part of WWF, the world's largest conservation organization. At WWF we advocate and promote lasting solutions to the challenge of balancing growing human need and environmental sustainability. In collaboration with business, government, communities and individuals we take a science-based approach to the protection, management and restoration of environmentally sensitive parts of our planet. Our work includes visionary projects focused on climate change, freshwater and the health of habitat and species across Canada and around the world. For more information about WWF-Canada visit www.wwf.ca.

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