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Rebuilding Grand Banks Cod Fishery

CANADA - The long-standing fishing moratorium on southern Grand Banks cod is to be extended for at least another three years, member countries of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (NAFO) decided last Friday (24 September).

In another move applauded by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as one of its “measures of success” for the annual NAFO meeting, countries established a working group of scientists and managers to develop a rebuilding strategy in line with the precautionary approach and international commitments.

“We are pleased with the adoption of a NAFO working group to develop plans and we are optimistic that, when implemented, the plan will yield considerable long-term economic and ecological benefits,” said Dr Bettina Saier, Director Oceans, WWF-Canada.

Grand Banks cod, once the basis of one of the world’s most productive and noted fisheries, have responded only slowly to a fishing moratorium introduced 16 years ago. Recent NAFO moves to establish voluntary limits on cod bycatch in other fisheries have seen the limits exceeded by more than half in 2009.

Atlantic cod numbers on the southern Grand Banks are estimated at only about 10 per cent of historical levels, but the 2010 assessment data indicated a significant increase in the number of spawning fish. The fragile recovery is however, completely dependent on reducing excessive bycatch.

No new measures to reduce bycatch were adopted but the rebuilding plan is a significant step forward. Canada took the lead at NAFO by developing a plan to create a robust rebuilding strategy for depleted stocks, including essential elements such as rebuilding targets, timelines, and harvest control rules.

A precautionary approach compliant with the rebuilding strategy will also be developed for American plaice, another stock currently under moratorium.

NAFO also extended protection of a number of seamounts, classified by the UN since 2006 as Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems. Seamounts closed to bottom fishing activities until 2014 were Orphan Knoll, Fogo Seamounts 1 and 2, Corner Seamounts, Newfoundland Seamounts, and New England Seamounts.

While WWF congratulates NAFO on its progress in meeting international commitments to protect these VMEs, a number of other conservation and management measures required by international commitments have not yet been met. Among other issues not addressed, contracting parties did not agree to undertake standardized impact assessments in all bottom fishing areas.

“Standardised impact assessments as specified by FAO guidelines in the entire NAFO regulatory area are an important tool to evaluate and assess the impacts of fishing on vulnerable habitats and species,” said Dr Robert Rangeley, Vice-President, WWF-Canada, Atlantic Region.

“NAFO’s Contracting Parties have not met their commitments made under the UN General Assembly resolution 64/72, which does not set a good example for other regional fisheries management organisations.”

NAFO also adopted criteria for its first independent performance review based on the UN Fish Stocks Agreement, giving them the opportunity to increase their transparency and strengthen their conservation measures.

the Fish Site Editor

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