Government caves to industry pressure to overfish northern cod

Decision goes against scientific advice and the new Fisheries Act

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia, June 25, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Today, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) released its annual quota for critically depleted northern cod, allowing a catch level of up to 12,350 tonnes. This is a 30 per cent increase over 2018 and does not include the unknown number of cod caught in Newfoundland’s recreational fishery. This decision undermines the amended Fisheries Act, passed just days ago, and the government’s own policy to keep all sources of fishing mortality on depleted stocks at the lowest possible level.

Twenty-seven years after the northern cod collapse, the government is still choosing not to give this stock its best chance of recovery, forfeiting opportunities for coastal communities and the marine ecosystem to benefit from a fishery rebuilt to abundance.

Late last week, the government passed an updated Fisheries Act that, for the first time in its history, made rebuilding depleted populations the law.

“This decision to increase the quota on a severely depleted stock is inconsistent with the federal government’s own policy and the new Fisheries Act,” says Robert Rangeley, Director of Science, Oceana Canada. “The population could decline further, because the most important thing under DFO control – how to manage fishing mortality – is not being addressed responsibly.”

Rangeley adds that northern cod is providing a fraction of its potential value to communities.  “There is a tremendous opportunity to rebuild northern cod to healthy levels and support a lucrative, sustainable fishery. Despite this, the government still isn’t managing for recovery,” says Rangeley.

A fisheries economics study commissioned by Oceana Canada showed that a rebuilt northern cod fishery could provide 16 times more jobs and have a net present value worth up to five times more than today. Coastal communities could realize the benefits of recover in as few as 11 years under conditions of low fishing pressure and favourable environmental conditions. The economic activity generated by the rebuilt fishery could potentially increase from the current value of $36 million, employing approximately 1,600 people, to a rebuilt potential of $233 million in today’s dollars, supporting 26,000 jobs.

Northern cod once supported massive fisheries, drove economies and fed millions, until it collapsed in the early 1990s.  In 2019, DFO announced the population showed a slight increase in biomass. However, it remains at less than half the amount at which it would move out of the critical zone, the level where serious harm is occurring to the stock, and where DFO policy calls for conservation to be the priority

“In order to rebuild depleted fisheries to sustainable levels, science, policy and common sense all call for fishing pressure to be kept to the lowest possible level,” says Rangeley. “Any increase to the quota should only be considered once the government has a good estimate of the total amount of cod caught in the commercial and recreational fisheries, and if it is consistent with a rebuilding plan that provides the stock with a high probability of growing out of the critical zone.”

Oceana Canada is continuing to advocate for the completion of the long-awaited northern cod rebuilding plan.  In addition, it is calling for the swift implementation of national policy that will make it mandatory for all commercial and recreational fisheries to have sufficient levels of monitoring and ensure accurate estimates of all retained and discarded catches. 

For more information, please contact:
Kathleen Munro,; 416-462-0199

More about rebuilding fisheries
Since its inception, Oceana Canada has advocated for rebuilding Canada’s fisheries. To understand Canada’s full potential for abundant, healthy oceans, Oceana Canada recently commissioned a study by leading fisheries economists that analyzed the socio-economic costs and benefits of rebuilding fisheries. The study revealed that a rebuilt northern cod fishery could provide 16 times more jobs and have a net present value worth up to five times more than today. These findings underscore the importance of setting science-based quotas that support recovering the population to a healthy level.

About Oceana Canada
Oceana Canada was established as an independent charity in 2015 and is part of the largest international advocacy group dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Canada has the longest coastline in the world, with an ocean surface area of 7.1 million square kilometres, or 70 per cent of its landmass. Oceana Canada believes that Canada has a national and global obligation to manage our natural resources responsibly and help ensure a sustainable source of protein for the world’s growing population. Oceana Canada works with civil society, academics, fishers, Indigenous Peoples and the federal government to return Canada’s formerly vibrant oceans to health and abundance. By restoring Canada’s oceans, we can strengthen our communities, reap greater economic and nutritional benefits, and protect our future.

Photos accompanying this announcement are available at

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