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Ottawa's failure to rebuild northern cod has cost NL 200,000t of fish a year, with $10B price tag

Sounds like grounds for a lawsuit

The northern cod fishery off Labrador and eastern Newfoundland was closed in July 1992 by then-federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister John Crosbie. The closure was supposed to last two years, but 2022 will mark the 30th anniversary.

A new study out of the University of British Columbia has found that had Ottawa allowed for the rebuilding of the iconic northern cod stock in the 1980s, annual catches of about 200,000 tonnes could have been sustained.

Do the math on that: 200,000 tonnes (440 million/lbs) at 80¢/lb (this fall’s price for Grade A cod) works out to $353 million.

Multiply that by 29 years of commercial fishing moratorium for a grand total of $10.2 billion.

That’s an idea of how much Newfoundland and Labrador has lost since the 1992 northern cod moratorium, and as a direct result of Ottawa’s failure to rebuild the stock.

Sounds like a lawsuit to me.

At the very least a demand for an independent review of federal management, and a constitutional shakeup in terms of federal fisheries control.

DFO actually announced the northern cod rebuilding plan in December, 2019 — 27 years after the stock collapse. Find it here.

Find an overview of the enormous flaws in the rebuilding plan here.

Of course, inshore harvesters rely on cod much less than they used to.

For the over 40’ fleet, northern cod represented a grand total of 1% (that's one per cent) of its total fishing income in 2019, compared to 16% for the under 40’ fleet.

SEA-NL wrote about that on July 24th: In cod we (used to) trust

Dr. Daniel Pauly, co-author of the British Columbia study, said DFO scientists ignored inshore fishermen when they warned the cod stock was failing, and instead focused on data from trawlers, which did not reflect the stock's decline because the boats could follow the cod further offshore.

However, fisheries advocate Gus Etchegary said that wasn't the case, and DFO scientists warned managers the stock was in decline in the 1960s/70s, but were outnumbered by scientists from foreign countries that were members of NAFO and IGNAF before it.

NAFO stands for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, which oversees the fishing of migratory stocks outside Canada's 200-mile limit on the nose and tail of the Grand Banks. NAFO's predecessor was the International Commission for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries (ICNAF)

Etchegary also said a well-managed northern cod fishery could have had sustained annual total allowable catches of 300,000 tonnes.

In his 1992 book, No Fish and Our Lives, Some Survival Notes for Newfoundland, Cabot Martin wrote that a rebuilt northern cod stock could support annual harvesters of 400,000 tonnes (881 million/lbs).

The quota for this year's small-scale stewardship fishery for northern cod has been set at 13,000 tonnes.

Ryan Cleary,


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