Canada increases allowable catch of endangered cod, still blames seals for lack of recovery

Canadian politicians and fishermen are calling for a cull of seals.In a move that defies explanation, Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield quietly announced last week a 33% increase in the allowable catch of northern cod off the coast of Newfoundland .  

This is a stock for which the science advice says there should be no directed fishery whatsoever, and that even the impacts of the stewardship and recreational fisheries, and bycatch pose a threat to stock recovery.  

Shockingly, the decision went largely unnoticed in Canada – until it was revealed in an eye-opening opinion piece in the Toronto Star by Dr Jeff Hutchings, a world-renowned fishery scientist based at Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia.

The Conservative government has no elected representatives in Newfoundland, and seems highly unlikely to get any in the near future. Increasing the quota for northern cod certainly isn’t going to be significant enough to win them any votes. Why increase the quota? Why now? When the department’s own scientists say that cod abundance is so low, they could experience serious harm jeopardizing their survival. The northern cod stock is so low that it is 85% below the level at which a fishery would even be allowed in countries such as the U.S. and Australia.                                                                                                               

A spokesperson from Fisheries and Oceans attempted to excuse the cod quota increase by saying that exploitation rates were not that high, the population was showing some recovery, and that there was a need to balance conservation with socio-economic considerations.  This is nonsense. As Dr Hutchings points out, some fish stocks simply cannot recover when faced with continued fishing pressure.

This is the problem we face. Politicians continue to increase quotas for groundfish when science clearly says they should not. At the same time Canadian politicians – and fishermen – are calling for a cull of seals because they are “eating too many fish.”  

Politicians do this because they perceive there to be some gain (whatever that might be in this case), and no political cost to ignoring the scientific advice. A cabinet shuffle is expected in the near future, and Minister Ashfield will likely be replaced with someone new.

We need to show Canadian politicians that there is, in fact, a cost to making decisions that are not guided by the scientific evidence.  


Please write to your MP and let them know that fisheries management decisions should be supported by science.  

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