Posted on September 6, 2006

Can stakeholders save North Atlantic cod stocks?

WWF warns NAFO meeting attendees to make reforms now

The “last best chance” for cod recovery in the North Atlantic is the upcoming annual meeting of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO).

That’s according to the WWF, which pointed out that a critical part of the meeting’s agenda will be discussions on dramatic reforms to how fisheries on the nose and tail of the Grand Banks are managed.

The meeting is held in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, September 18-22.

In a report released today, WWF-Canada outlined the key measures that should be used to test if NAFO is serious about reform, or if other more drastic measures need to be considered.

"NAFO is responsible for the management of most fish stocks beyond Canada’s 200 mile exclusive economic zone. Unfortunately, the majority of these stocks, including cod, have been severely overfished and few show signs of rebuilding," said Robert Rangeley, director, Atlantic Marine Program, WWF-Canada. "If these measures outlined in the report are addressed, it may be possible for this ecosystem to recover, but if progress is not immediate, it may be too late."

Despite fishing moratoria on nine out of nineteen stocks managed by NAFO, imposed when stocks collapsed due to overfishing, many stocks continue to be at historically low levels, and many others show alarming signs of decline. Progress in rebuilding stocks has been almost negligible.

At last year’s Annual Meeting, in recognition of mounting public pressure, all NAFO members committed to significantly reform the organization in order to manage stocks more sustainably.

Based on the report, titled High Seas Reform: Actions to Reduce Bycatch and Implement Ecosystem Based Management for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, WWF-Canada proposes five steps to ensure that NAFO manages fisheries sustainably.

NAFO must move to protect stocks by:
1. Committing this year to developing and implementing recovery plans for all stocks under moratoria or at low biomass levels, as moratoria on their own without appropriate recovery measures will continue to fail;

2. Committing to reducing bycatch by setting measurable targets and timelines, and

3. Implementing ecosystem-based management, such as protecting corals and other habitats that are vulnerable to trawling. As well, NAFO must reform its internal structure to better reflect a commitment to sustainable fisheries by:

4. Adhering to scientific advice by basing quotas on science not politics, and

5. Strengthening enforcement to stop illegal fishing. In particular, governments must take responsibility for the actions of their fleets, including prosecuting their own fishermen when they break the rules.

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