April 30, 2009 08:00 ET

WWF-Canada: European Union Main Offender in Overfishing Cod

Solutions must be addressed now in advance of NAFO Annual Meeting in September - WWF-Canada

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA--(Marketwire - April 30, 2009) - Cod bycatch on the southern Grand Banks was at least 70 per cent higher than the 2008 target set by the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), according to information provided to WWF-Canada. Sources indicate that the European Union (EU) is responsible for the largest proportion of the overrun in bycatch.

Since the 1994 moratorium, NAFO has failed to allow rebuilding due to excessive levels of bycatch, every single year. Levels peaked in 2003, when bycatch amounts were estimated to be over 80 per cent of the remaining cod stock.

At the 2007 annual meeting of NAFO, WWF pushed for a cod recovery strategy that included setting a bycatch reduction target of 40 per cent for southern Grand Banks cod. The 40 per cent target was equivalent to a fishing mortality of 420 tonnes, which is estimated to be the maximum the population could withstand to still have some chance of recovery. Unfortunately, a total of 713 tonnes of bycatch was taken in 2008. Of that amount, the EU was responsible for 444 tonnes. These are unofficial statistics and do not account misreporting and illegal activity.

Before the results of the 2008 fishing year became available, NAFO stated in a press release that they had "adopted a resolution to implement its commitment to an ecosystem-based fisheries management approach", an approach contradicted by NAFO increasing the total allowable catches (TACs) for fisheries with high levels of cod bycatch. Evidence of an increase in young cod in the population was also ignored.

WWF is now calling on NAFO to take steps that will benefit the ecosystem health and the fisheries of the Grand Banks. This is entirely consistent with the Ecosystem management approach adopted in the revised NAFO convention.

"Cod and other fish stocks can never recover as long as NAFO refuses to see the urgency of the problem and acknowledge that voluntary measures are not working," said Dr. Robert Rangeley, Vice President Atlantic, WWF-Canada. "If NAFO begins to address these problems and starts working on solutions in advance of the June Scientific Council meetings, then they will provide the opportunity to get cod bycatch on the agenda for the September annual meeting in Norway, and get strict measures put in place to give cod recovery a chance."

Measures should include the adoption of an effective recovery plan for southern Grand Banks cod that sets long-term recovery goals, immediate bycatch reduction targets, gear-based solutions and spatial/temporal closures, and measures to protect spawning and nursery areas. The adopted measures will need to be backed by monitoring and enforcement, to be effective.

Note: WWF recently revealed in a new paper, Defining and Estimating Global Marine Fisheries Bycatch, co-authored by WWF for the journal Marine Policy, that global bycatch - defined as unused and unmanaged catch - constitutes more than 40 per cent of the global catch, and estimates that annually more than 38 million metric tons of marine life is unused or unmanaged and should be deemed bycatch.

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 wwf.ca.

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Contact Information

  • WWF-Canada, Atlantic Region
    Stacey McCarthy
    Communications Specialist
    902.482.1105 x 41
    Cell: 902.209.6457
    Email: smccarthy@wwfcanada.org
    Robert Rangeley
    Vice President, Atlantic
    902.482.1105 x 23
    Cell: 902.401.1569
    Email: rrangeley@wwfcanada.org