1-year commercial cod moratorium ordered for northern Gulf of St. Lawrence

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The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans say cod stocks in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence are in a 'critical' zone. (SubC Imaging - image credit)
The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans say cod stocks in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence are in a 'critical' zone. (SubC Imaging - image credit)
SubC Imaging
SubC Imaging

Two days after the 30th anniversary of the 1992 cod moratorium that decimated the Newfoundland and Labrador economy, Ottawa has closed commercial cod fishing in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence.

On Monday, Fisheries and Oceans Minister Joyce Murray announced a one-year ban on directed commercial fishing in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence in order to give young fish time to reach maturity.

"I do understand just how important the cod fishery is for people in the Gulf area," said the minister in an interview with CBC News. "This is going to be a disappointment to many fish harvesters and their communities."

Murray says cod stocks in the northern Gulf are "deep in the critical zone," and the closure will give the stocks time to recover.

"I know that most Newfoundlanders and Labradorians do want this stock to recover, so that it can be something that is fished in the future and for their children," she said.

In a news release, the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union criticized the decision.

"Minister Murray's decision further hurts this struggling region while continuing to let the real problem — seal overpopulation — spiral more and more out of control," said FFAW-Unifor president Keith Sullivan.


Murray said grey seals as predators are likely a factor in the declining cod stocks.

"When there's that kind of pressure, that we don't have control over it, it still remains the case that we need to take measures to give the stock a chance to rebuild," she said.

Murray said she's committed to working to achieve a better understanding of the impact of seals on fish stocks and looking at ways to develop the sealing industry in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Stock at 10 per cent of reference point

The news release from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans says cod stock in the Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence is at 10 per cent of its "limit reference point" and is the "most concerning" of any cod stock in Atlantic Canada.

According to the department, the total allowable catch for that area in 2021 was 1,000 tonnes, with about 510 tonnes available for the directed commercial fishery.

The news release states that the recreational fishery will continue with daily possession limits, and the food, social and ceremonial fisheries will also proceed. The sentinal fishery, which is when harvesters collect data on stock while fishing, will also continue to provide updates about stock health.

Sullivan also criticized the decision to allow the recreational fishery to continue.

"The Minister's decisions this year on shrimp, mackerel and now gulf cod ... show our federal government is not committed to the sustainability of our province," he said.

According to the department, the one-year commercial moratorium will be reevaluated in 2023, "taking into consideration economic factors, stakeholder perspectives, and the best available science."

Murray said the stock will be assessed before a decision is made.

"Having a precautionary approach is, I think, critical given how important the fishery is to people."

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