Canada's northern cod fishery improvement project making progress, stock out of critical zone

A meeting of the stakeholders of the Northern Cod Fishery Improvement Project
Stakeholders of the industry-led Northern Cod Fishery Improvement Project met in Barcelona ahead of Seafood Expo Global to discuss the project's progress | Photo courtesy of the Association of Seafood Producers
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The industry-led Northern Cod Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, is making progress and the stock is now out of a critical zone and improving, according to the latest data. 

A group of stakeholders in the FIP  including the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), Marks & Spencer, Youngs Seafoods, Sysco France, High Liner Foods, Ocean Choice International, Icewater Seafoods, the Association of Seafood Producers (ASP), the Atlantic Groundfish Council (AGC), the Marine Stewardship Council, and government officials from Canada – met in Barcelona the day before the opening of Seafood Expo Global to discuss the ongoing project. Started in 2015, the industry-led FIP has been working to restore Northern Atlantic cod stocks on the east coast of Canada – a fishery that was once among the largest in the world but collapsed in 1992.

That collapse led to a long moratorium on the fishery, and there is now only a small “stewardship” fishery for the stock. The total allowable catch for the cod fishery in 2024 is 12,999 metric tons (MT), up from the 12,350 MT in 2023 and 2022, up from the 9,500 MT quota in 2018.

The latest news from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada indicates that the stock is improving, and the limit reference point – a metric defining the beginning of the “danger zone” of a stock – has been revised based on historical data in the fishery. According to a release from the Atlantic Groundfish Council and the Association of Seafood Producers, that means the stock is now 20 percent above the LRP and out of the critical zone.

“There have been encouraging updates on Northern cod science in the past year, setting the stage to move towards a sustainable commercial fishery,” SFP President Jim Cannon said. “At the same time, the FIP and its world-class acoustic research continues to bring together industry, academics, and government, to improve knowledge and inform fisheries management for generations to come.”

As part of the FIP, the ASP and the AGC launched a USD 8.5 million (EUR 8 million) initiative to tag and track cod in 2019. Through the project, the groups have collected multiple years of telemetry data that they called exciting in May 2023.

In the latest update from the FIP, the groups announced that as of March 2024 more than 1,000 cod have been tagged as part of the acoustic survey project, which includes a 700-kilometer acoustic detection array. That array has 75 receiver stations collecting telemetry data, which helped add to the scientific understanding of the species, the organizations said.

The FIP participants announced that there will be another USD 500,000 (EUR 469,000) from the Atlantic Fisheries Fund for 2024 to 2025, intended to help refurbish the array and tag more cod to continue to add to the science of the FIP. 

At the stakeholder meeting, the commercial stakeholders for the stock said they remain committed to rehabilitating the fishery.

“There was a strong showing of confidence in the future of Northern cod, and in the continuation of this important fishery improvement project,” Icewater Seafoods President and CEO Alberto Wareham said. “This FIP is crucial to maintaining Northern cod’s place in premium world markets and to the ultimate objective of achieving MSC sustainability certification.”  

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