Summary Update on Atlantic Canadian Fish Stocks
The following is a look at the state of fish stocks in Atlantic Canada today. I looked at them individually but found that something more important could be seen by looking at the ecosystem as a whole. Simultaneous declines in many stocks in the same area appear more serious than a decline in any one stock in particular. Here is a summary of all the Canadian Stock Status Reports (from
Department of Fisheries and Oceans)
on finfish in Atlantic Canada. Words in quotations are theirs, the rest is my summaries of their reports, and occasionally my observations. This is not a selected list, it's the whole list.
1. Atlantic Salmon - Eastern Canada - This fish is in very deep trouble. Landings,
abundance, recruitment, total biomass and spawning stock biomass are all in “very steep
decline” in recent years. They are widely feared to be on the verge of extinction and their
biggest problem is known to be “marine survival.” We can do whatever we want to protect the river habitat, but if there is nothing to eat in the ocean....
2. Redfish - Northwest Atlantic In recent years this has been a profitable fishery but it
is now in steep decline. Landings are down, recruitment is low, and estimates of
abundance are down “substantially.” The estimated biomass for 1995-1998 was “less
than one third of the estimated biomass at the beginning of the 1990s.”
3. Northern Cod - Newfoundland Despite a fishing moratorium for eight years,
abundance estimates for this species are still declining in the offshore. One offshore
survey found “no concentrations of cod” and “no evidence of an increase in the number
of fish in the study area over the five years of the study.” (However, a very slight increase
in the abundance estimate is noted in the inshore area.) "Biomass of shelf components of the stock remain near all time lows...The coastal components are stronger and comprised of several relatively strong year classes, with the 1990 year class the strongest." A note from the FRCC report: "There was a consensus view that cod in the offshore areas of 2J3KL are at an extremely low level. Many inshore fishers in areas 3KL are of the view that a commercial fishery is sustainable and should be established..."
4. East and southeast Newfoundland herring - Landings and abundance estimates are
decreasing. Recruitment is low.
5. Capelin in 2J3K (Newfoundland) - This common prey of the cod is showing low
recruitment, declining average fish size, and declining estimates of abundance. “The
average size of capelin declined during the 1990s and has remained small.” There appears to be no age data on capelin. Also “...the capelin stock will probably decline in the future.”
Before leaving Newfoundland, I should note that a “groundfish overview” for the area
reported on some non-traditional species that have been fished there recently. Among
these were the Lumpfish (fished exclusively for its roe - already there are “indications of
stock declines”), the Catfish (“estimates remain very much below those observed in the
1980s”) and the Monkfish (“this resource may be declining”).
6. Northwest Atlantic Spiny Dogfish - No TAC (quota) has ever been put on this little shark,
but a fair amount of effort has been directed to catching it in recent years. This fish is
showing a sharp decline in landings and a very steep drop in estimated total biomass. It
seems that all we have to go on is catch rates which, since 1995, have “declined to a very
low level,” including another “sharp” decline in 1998.
7. Cod in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence - This fishery has been closed since 1993.
Recruitment, however, remains low. This stock remains at a “very low” level.
8. Cod in Sydney Bight - “The Sydney Bight cod stock rapidly declined in abundance
and spawning biomass in the late 1980s and early 1990s.” "...spawning biomass is very low and has not shown any recovery, although the 1997 biomass is slightly larger than the low seen in 1996. This increase is due to the growth of fish in the population and not due to recruitment." Weight at age shows a declining trend. A closed fishery since 1993, this stock is showing no improvement, “total mortality rates estimated from the research survey are high, indicating that there are other sources of mortality that are affecting
9. Eastern Scotian Shelf cod - This fishery has also been closed since 1993 yet abundance and recruitment estimates remain abnormally low. Weight at age shows a declining trend. “Surveys indicate that since the mid-1990s, there has been an increase in mortality of cod, other than that attributable to fishing, and which has persisted even after the closure of the fishery.” “The biomass is projected to decline 5%
to 20%, even in the absence of any fishery.” "The short term prospects for this fishery remain dismal."
10. Eastern George’s Bank cod - The fishery is managed with quotas and seasonal closures. Trends in the stock are: "...biomass declining between 1990-1992 and remaining at low levels since 1992...The age one recruitment index has been below average since the 1990 year-class and the 1997 and 1998 year-classes are the lowest observed. Also CPUE decreasing and "the overall trend of lower weight at age remains."
11. Southern Scotian Shelf and Bay of Fundy cod - “Landings have declined
throughout the 1990s, and will likely by the lowest on record in 1998.” “Recruitment has
been below average since 1992.” “There is considerable uncertainty in the estimates of
recent stock abundance...” It is also of note that “...the highest catches were in the Bay of
Fundy, while catches of cod were generally poor in deep water of the Fundian Channel
and Gulf of Maine, and over much of the area covered on the Scotian Shelf.” This
finding agrees with the theory that offshore areas, or areas farther from the naturally
richer Bay of Fundy, are hungrier than areas that are inshore or closer to the Bay of
Fundy. But there is definitely trouble, even in the relatively well-off Bay of Fundy. Also "Fish over age 5 have consistently comprised a lower proportion of the landings than projected in recent years..."
12. Eastern Scotian Shelf haddock - Surveys show a “substantial decline in abundance
since late 1980s.” The fishery has been closed since 1993. “The short term prospects for
this stock are not encouraging.”
13. Southern Scotian Shelf and Bay of Fundy haddock - “Population estimates in
recent years are considerably lower than indicated in the assessment last year.” “...the
outlook is not as optimistic as last year. Spawning stock biomass will not increase to the
level predicted last year.” This shows how predictions are off because of some unknown
factor that is accelerating their decline. There is also obvious the inshore/offshore
difference in this stock. “The abundance of market-size haddock was below average on
the Scotian Shelf but above average in the Bay of Fundy.” An indicator of leanness that
is sometimes used, although it is not linked to age, is “condition” of fish. “...condition
(plumpness) has decreased since the late 1980s to low levels in the 1990s. The cause of
low condition in this stock is uncertain.”
14. Eastern Georges Bank haddock - Weight-at-age decreasing, recruitment “probably”
decreasing, landings down to one third of 1980s average, total biomass one third of the
historical average, outlook: “...biomass will remain below threshold.”
15. Scotian Shelf Silver Hake - “The most recent survey estimates of abundance and
biomass show a decine.” (1998) Weight at age has shown a declining trend and remains at an all-time low. Landings are down considerably (16,000 tons caught in 1997 as compared to 60,000 in 1992), as of 1998 this fishery remained open with an increase in the allowable catch (55,000 tons in 1998, up from 50,000 in 1997....optimistic move considering how many were actually caught in 1997.)
16. White hake in 4VWX and 5 - “Total landings have declined since 1995, and
landings to date suggest that 1998 may prove the lowest in three decades.” “Research
vessel survey abundance estimates...are all near record lows.” There is no age data but
the mean weights of these fish have been decreasing since 1984 and have recently
levelled off. DFO’s outlook: “..the stock may be at risk of collapse.”
17. White hake in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence This fishery has been closed
since 1995. “The sharp decline in the survey abundance index between 1992 and 1993 is
not well understood. It appears to be too large to be accounted for by the reported
landings, which also declined sharply between 1992 and 1993.” The outlook: “grave
18. Pollock in 4VWX5c - “The 1998 fishery has been poor compared with 1997 in most
areas.” “The geographic scope of the fishery has become increasingly constricted.” “The
index of abundance, commercial fishery catch rates, has declined for the past two years.”
And following a declining trend..."average weights at age from the fishery have been stable in
recent years.” (Declining weight at age necessarily bottoms out at some point.) The surveyors are clearly perplexed by the trends they are seeing in the Pollock stock. “Research vessel survey data are not currently used as an index of abundance in this assessment, because there is considerable unexplained interannual variation of many year-classes, which is inconsistent with our knowledge of fisheries
19. Cusk on the Scotian Shelf - Abundance is down drastically. “Research vessel mean
weight/tow declined abruptly in 1992 and has remained below the long-term mean..”
“Research vessel survey has shown a significant restriction of distribution.” This stock
has been considered to be in “collapse” since 1992, with no encouraging signs noted.
20. Yellowtail Flounder on Georges Bank - This fishery deserves a close look because
it is cited by fisheries managers as an instance of a fish species that is on the increase.
Landings “have been increasing since 1995,” but a closer look at the story reveals a
major increase in effort since 1993, when new gear was introduced that was more
efficient for catching this fish. It also appears that the high landings in 1998 reached only
one sixth as high as the record high landings in 1969. There is some doubt that increasing
catch rates indicate increasing abundance of this fish “While catch rates may prove to be
useful as an index of abundance for this resource, they require further investigation
before they are included directly in the assessment.” There is no program for determining
the age of yellowtail flounder. Estimates of increasing biomass may reflect nothing more
than the fact that they are being sought more intensively in the absence of the other fish.
21. Yellowtail flounder in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence - Noted is a recent
increase in “interest in this fish, especially around the Magdalen Islands”. There is not a
lot of information but this stock “appears to be at intermediate abundance.”
22. Witch flounder in Division 4VWX - “Witch flounder populations in both Division
4VW and Division 4X declined substantially in abundance between the mid 1980s and
the mid 1990s....the population is at about the lowest level observed.”
23. 4RST Witch flounder - “Unless recruitment to this stock improves substantially,
current catch levels are unlikely to permit any rebuilding of the stock and risk further
24. Southwest Nova winter flounder, American plaice, and yellowtail flounder -
These three flatfish have been fished more heavily since the traditional targets (cod,
haddock and pollock) in this area have declined. “...the research survey shows a general
reduction in the age range of all three species, and poor signs of incoming recruitment.”
“Immediate action should be taken to reduce fishing effort on 4X flatfish.”
25. Winter flounder in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence - “..declines in abundance
have been noted in certain locations..” Effort to catch this fish has increased since the
ban on cod fishing.
26. Scotian Shelf and southern Grand Bank halibut - “Since the early 1990s there
appears to have been a significant reduction in the numbers of halibut...” "...mortality rates are presently between 2 and 3 times higher than they were in 1960 and the age range in the population has been much reduced."
27. American plaice in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence - Research vessel survey
shows that “Abundance has declined to its lowest level for the third consecutive year.”
There is no age data on this stock.
28. 4VsW Winter Skate - Related to sharks, skates are very vulnerable to
over-exploitation. It is hard to estimate abundance but there are a couple of revealing
statements. “Total mortalities have doubled since 1995.” and “Current levels in the
‘developing’ fishery are not sustainable.”
29. Monkfish - This ugly critter has only really been caught as a bycatch. “The survey abundance in the
1990s is at the low end of the range.”
30. Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence herring - “...the herring biomass is currently
31. 4VWX herring - “The July bottom trawl survey indicated that herring were
widespread, but less numerous than in recent years.” “The Bras D’Or Lakes spawning
component exhibits a continuing state of decline.” One traditional spawning area for
these fish, Seal Island, showed no sign of herring spawn.
32. 4VWX and 5Z herring - “There is little quantitative information on which to
evaluate the status of this stock.” Landings for 1998 on the Scotian Shelf Banks were
“substantially less than in the previous two years. This reduction in catch is attributed to
33. Scotian Shelf capelin - “There has never been a directed fishery for capelin on the
Scotian Shelf and only occasionally have capelin been reported as by-catch..” Recent
surveys have shown progressive increases in capelin abundance in this area, but
considered in the context of the severe depletion of their predators (essentially all of the
other fish), and their ability to feed at a very low level in the food web (plankton and
krill), an increase in their numbers here is not surprising at this time. Unfortunately,
weight-at-age data are not available for capelin. This finding of an increasing abundance
of capelin on the Scotian Shelf (where there are essentially no groundfish), is not
inconsistent with the overall system-depletion theory. Also "since the early 1990s there has been a steady decrease in the mean size of female and male capelin."
34. Porbeagle Shark - “There is some evidence of declines in spring catch rates in recent
years which suggests that abundance may have declined.” Like all sharks the porbeagle
bears live young, in this case usually 4 pups per year. “This combination of life history
characteristics makes porbeagle sharks highly susceptible to over-exploitation.”
35. Striped Bass in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence - “Stock categorized as reduced
or declining.” “Prospects for stock increase...are poor.” An observation for this same
species in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia (from SSR D3-22(1999)): “The native stock
may be extirpated from the St. John River, while in the Annapolis River, spawning
activity has declined since the 1980s and may have ceased recently.”
36. Gaspereau Maritimes Region Overview - This little fish also travels up rivers to
spawn. Overall landings are in a steady decline. “High numbers of spawners during the
late 1980’s did not produce high returns during the early and mid-1990s, possibly
because of adverse freshwater or marine environmental conditions.” Along the Atlantic
coast of Nova Scotia, “annual mean harvests tend to decline from south to north”. This
indicates that the farther they are from the relatively rich waters of the Bay of Fundy, the
fewer their numbers.
37. Prince Edward Island eels, gaspereau, silversides and smelts - “Reported landings
in PEI’s eel fishery have greatly declined in the last decade.” “There are anecdotal
reports of rivers where gaspereau runs have disappeared after periods of intensive fishing,
but the extent to which overfishing may have caused local extirpations is unknown.”
“There is no quantitative basis for predictions of trends in PEI smelt stocks.” Translation:
...now moving into the “Laurentian” area, which is generally more “inshore” (especially
as it gets into its more northern districts) and includes the mouth of the St. Lawrence
38. Cod in the Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence - This fish was the one example that I found of increasing “weight-at-age.” "The mean weight-at-age rose in 1996 and 1997 and stabilized in 1998." Sounds good initially but the amount of rise is small and could be largely accounted for by random sampling error. The other thing is that there was a deeper declining trend prior to the samll rise in 1996 - it looks like it regained the long term mean. The Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence is an inshore area, largely bordering on the province of Quebec. It is also adjacent to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, which carries runoff from a large part of central Canada. These factors, plus the fact that this cod fishery was recently closed for three years (1994-1996), work in favor of this particular stock. It is encouraging to think that in a situation with adequate nutrients and no fishing pressure that they may be able to "rebuild." These cod, however, are a long way from being out of the woods yet. The fishery was reopened in 1997, with a quota set at one third of that used in 1993. The decline was so immediate that the quota for 1998 was set at half of that used in 1997. Negative indicators of abundance are still there, including the observation that “Mortality caused by factors other than recorded landings was high in the late 1980s and played a role in the stock’s collapse. It is very likely that, during the 1990s, this mortality remained at least twice as high as assumed in assessments before 1998.” In other words, something is killing off significant numbers of these cod and the scientists do not know what it is.
39. Atlantic Halibut of the Gulf of St. Lawrence (Divisions 4RST) - “Since 1996,
landings of Atlantic halibut have risen substantially, which is thought to be due primarily
to the increased fishing effort by the fixed gear fleet, notably longliners.” More fishermen
are trying to catch these since other targets have been eliminated. “From a historical
standpoint, the stock appears to be at a very low level.” And large specimens are no
longer being found.
40. Gulf of St. Lawrence Greenland Halibut (4RST) - This fish is also known as the
turbot. “In more recent years, the fishery has been characterized by low yields and
catches with a preponderance of small, immature fish.” The research survey found the
highest concentrations of this fish to the west and north of Anticosti Island (closer to the
mouth of the river).
41. West coast of Newfoundland Atlantic herring - “The 1999 assessment indicates
that the status of the spring-spawning stock is in danger of collapse...” “There has been a
more or less constant decline in the weight-at-age of both spring and autumn spawners
since the early 1980s...indicating...poor feeding conditions.”
42. Capelin in the estuary and northern Gulf of St. Lawrence - These relatively small
fish, that are the major prey for many others, have been the focus of a “roe” fishery for
the Japanese market since the 1970’s. “...from an analysis of the locations of the 1998
tows in which capelin were caught, it appears that there has been a significant
contraction in this geographic range.” From the SSR: “Since the early 1990’s, there
has been a steady decrease in the mean size of female and male capelin. This decline
resulted in shortened fishing season in 1994, and almost closed in 1995. Since that
closure, the mean size of individual fish increased between 1994 and 1996 and has held
fairly steady ever since.” It is worrisome to see fish shrinking in even the relatively
43. Mackerel in the Northwest Atlantic - Mackerel migrate long distances and are only
found here in times when the water is warmer. The only real evidence of abundance is
what can be implied from records of landings, which show a declining trend. The amount
of mackerel landed in 1996 was approximately one third of the amount caught in 1988. It
would have been nice to see weight-at-age or condition trends. (An older fisherman, an acquaintance of mine, described to me how disappointing the mackerel roe were last spring. He has been "cutting roe" all his life, and last year's mackerel roe were hardly worth "bothering with," they were very short, thin and "bloody." To produce a healthy amount of roe, mackerel obviously need to be well fed. I'll let you know what they look like this spring.)
If you have read this far, the pattern of many stocks declining together should be obvious. Abundance and size of fish in general are markedly declining in Atlantic Canada.
I also looked specifically at the groundfish stocks and noted the frequency of different "stock indicators" as assessed by the FRCC. It's another way of looking at the fish stocks and comparing them to one another to see how they are faring.
I have a copy of "Fisheries in Transition" published by the
Fisheries Resource Conservation Council in July/99 (ask for it,
I'm sure they'll send you one). The book gives a quick overview and council
"recommendations" for each one of the 53 separate groundfish stocks in our area. For each stock
they have included their view on the following: Overall stock Indicator, Spawning
Biomass, Total Biomass, Recruitment, Growth and Condition, Age Structure,
Distribution, and Recent Exploitation.
I have been very concerned about my suspicions of reduced "total marine biomass," but the numbers will never be found to prove or disprove such a thing. The biomass of every organism in the sea would need to be determined (from plankton to fish to seabirds and whales and everything in between), and that certainly has not been (and will not be) done. So the "total marine biomass" cannot be determined...but we can at least get an idea of the "total groundfish biomass."
When I looked through "Fisheries in Transition," I first looked at the "Total Biomass"
estimates: 19 stocks had "very low" or "severely depleted" levels, another 19 had "low" or
"below average" levels, 4 had "unknown" levels, 4 had "average" levels, and 7 had
"recovering" "above average" or "healthy" levels. Ignoring the MAJORITY of "bad" stories,
let's just look at the "good" ones - the 7/53 that are doing "well" on biomass index.
TOTAL BIOMASS - MOST POSITIVE SIGNS
1. Greenland Halibut 2+3KLMNO - overall rating "improving", spawning biomass "still
below average", total biomass "shows signs of recovery", recruitment "good year-classes
since 1990", growth and condition "no observation", distribution "only 19% of biomass is
in 3LMNO." This small flatfish is also known as turbot and seems to be one of the last
survivors in a fished-out area, it must be better equipped to live in an impoverished
environment. After the other offshore groundfish were no longer "commercially viable"
here, the trawlers were still able to find some turbot. Remember the international
incident...the "turbot war?"
2. Haddock 4X - overall stock indicator (not included for this one, maybe they could not
agree), spawning biomass "above average", total biomass "above average", recruitment
"1993,1994 strong year-classes, 1996 avg.", growth/condition "low", age structure "poor:
95% 3-5 yr old, 2% > 9 yr old", distribution "good, except for eastern 4X", recent
exploitation "at F0.1". The council expressed concern about "the shift in effort from
eastern 4X to western 4X (particularly to the inner Bay of Fundy) for cod, haddock and
pollock," and about the "decrease in condition factor." From the SSR: "...condition
(plumpness) has decreased since the late 1980s to low levels n the 1990s. The cause of
low condition in this stock is uncertain."
3. Redfish Unit 2 - overall indicator "healthy" (the 1/53 to be described as such),
spawning biomass "improving", total biomass "healthy", recruitment "healthy: strong
1988, 1994 year-class relatively strong", growth/condition "similar to other redfish
stocks", age structure "good", distribution "similar to previous years", recent exploitaion
"moderate (6%). The redfish is a slow growing plankton-feeder. There are 3 other redfish
stocks in the area, overall indicators are "appears very low" (unit 1), "uncertain" (unit 3)
and "stable" (30). Redfish overall in the northwest Atlantic: Abundance is down
substantially, the estimated biomass for 1995-1998 was "less than one third of the
estimated biomass at the beginning of the 1990s."
4. Witch Flounder 3Ps - overall indicator “about recent average”, spawning biomass
“may be increasing in recent years”, total biomass “10% higher than 1996”, recruitment
“about long term average”, growth/condition “N/A”, age structure “N/A”, recent
exploitation “low.” Notes: “There is an increasing trend in the biomass estimates from
1996-1998. However this may reflect growth of individuals since estimates of abundance
remained stable during the same period.” Most are caught on St. Pierre Bank, 35%
caught in Fortune Bay. Witch flounder overall on the east coast is not doing quite as well;
in 4VWX the population has “declined substantially in abundance between the mid
1980s and the mid 1990s...the population is at about the lowest level observed.” In 4RST
“Unless recruitment to this stock improves substantially, current catch levels are unlikely
to permit any rebuilding of the stock and risk further declines.” In 2J3KL overall stock
indicator “extremely low”, and in 3NO “very low.”
5. Greenland Halibut 4RST - overall stock indicator “stock still rebuilding”, total
biomass “increasing since 1990”, spawning biomass “unknown”, recruitment “1995 and
1997 year classes good”, growth/condition “good”, age structure “improving”, recent
exploitation level “unknown.” Again, this is “turbot,” and this stock is in the Gulf of St.
Lawrence. From the SSR: “In more recent years, the fishery has been characterized by
low yields and catches with a preponderance of small, immature fish.” The research
survey found the highest concentrations of this fish to the west and north of Anticosti
Island (*closer to the mouth of the river, very much “inshore”).
6. Cod 3Ps - overall stock indicator “improving”, spawning biomass “among the highest
recorded”, total biomass “at a high level”, recruitment “good”, growth/condition “stable
growth, lower than in the 1970s; good condition”, age structure “1989, 1990, 1992 year
classes strong”, distrubution “more widespread”, recent exploitation “low.” Notes: “The
FRCC believes that this stock continues to improve.” The council consulted with
“inshore fishers” on this stock, and one of their concerns was the presence of seals in
“Fortune Bay, Placentia Bay, and Hermitage Bay”...not sounding exactly like an
7. Yellowtail Flounder 5ZJMHN (George’s Bank) - overall stock indicator “rebuilding”,
spawning biomass “rebuilding”, total biomass “rebuilding”, recruitment “mod/strong
year classes in 1990s; the 1997 year class estimated to be strong”, growth/condition
“slight decline in weight-at-age in 1998 for older ages”, age structure “expanding”,
distribution “consistent over time”, recent exploitation “below F0.1”. Note: “The
biomass of yellowtail flounder is below the long term average but has steadily shown
signs of improvement.” This little flatfish seems to have some characteristics in common
with the turbot. This very recent fishery has seen a major increase in effort since 1993,
since the severe decline in the other groundfish in the area.
OVERALL STOCK INDICATORS - MOST POSITIVE SIGNS
"Overall stock indicators" - the greatest number of stocks are rated as "very low"(18),
"low"(15) or "unknown"(4). All of these also have multiple other negative indicators and
"poor" or "dismal" outlooks, or labelled as “collapsed.” Seven stocks had "stable" or
"average" overall indicators and eight were rated as "increasing" overall. Those eight:
1. Yellowtail Flounder 3LNO (Grand Banks) - overall stock indicator “gradual
improvement”, spawning biomass “improving”, total biomass “appear to have returned to
a level close to that of the mid-1980s”, recruitment “the 1992 and 1993 year-classes well
above average”, growth/condition “weight-at-age stable”, age structure “stable, with
several cohorts”, distribution “mainly concentrated in 3NO; low in 3L”, recent
exploitation “reduced due to moratorium.” Note: “geographic distribution of this stock
2. Greenland Halibut 2 + 3KLMNO (already discussed)
3. Cod 4RS3PN (Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence and a small inshore Newfoundland area)
- overall stock indicator “stock status improving with extended geographical distribution
in coastal areas”, overall biomass “lower than average”, spawning biomass “lower than
average but increasing”, recruitment “near average 1993 and 1995 year-classes; weak
1994 year class”, growth/condition “growth improving; condition stable”, age structure
(no comment), recent exploitation “closed 1994-1996, 1997 catch 4,400t, 1998 catch
3029t.” Notes: The adult biomass is still “much lower” than the maximum observed in
1983. “There is near universal agreement among scientists, fishers and industry that this
stock is still at low levels compared to its historical levels and potential.” “...key
rebuilding indicators remain depressed. In particular, recruitment and the SSB remain
low relative to historical averages and distribution, while improving, has not fully
expanded to the historic range.”
The cod stock in the Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence was the single example that I found
of increasing “weight-at-age.” From the SSR: “The mean weight-at-age rose in 1996 and
1997 and stabilized in 1998.” Sounds good initially but the amount of rise is small and
could be largely accounted for by random sampling error. The other thing is that there
was a deeper declining trend prior to the small rise in 1996, the increase appears to bring
it back up to the longer term mean. The Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence is an inshore area,
largely bordering on the shores of Quebec and Newfoundland, and extending into the
estuary. It “possibly” receives a significant load of nutrients from the St. Lawrence River
which carries the runoff from the Great Lakes and a large portion of central Canada.
These factors, plus the fact that this cod fishery was recently closed for three years
(1994-1996), work in favor of this particular stock. It is encouraging to think that in a
situation with adequate nutrients and no fishing pressure that they may be able to
“rebuild.” These cod, however, are a long way from being out of the woods yet. The
fishery was reopened in 1997, with a quota set at one third of that used in 1993. The
decline was so immediate that the quota for 1998 was set at half of that used in 1997.
“Mortality” remains high.
4. Greenland Halibut 4RST (already discussed).
5. Cod 3PS (already discussed).
6. Haddock 5ZJM (George’s Bank) - overall stock indicator “some signs of recovery”,
spawning biomass “increasing but below 40,000t threshold”, total biomass “doubled
since 1993 but 1/3 of levels of 1930s to 1950s”, recruitment “sporadic”, growth/condition
“average”, age structure “expanding”, distribution “more than 90% of biomass on
Canadian side, limited on US side”, recent exploitation level “below F0.1.” The SSR
shows a declining trend in “weight-at-age” for this stock, and notes that recruitment is
probably decreasing as well.
7. Cod 5ZJM - overall stock indicator “some signs of recovery; but poor recruitment is
cause for concern”, spawning biomass “increasing but below the 25,000t threshold”, total
biomass “below long term average”, recruitment “recovery since 1994 due to moderate
year classes in 1992 and 1995, 1997 and 1998 year classes lowest observed”,
growth/condition “weight-at-age remains low overall”, age structure “landings dominated
by 1995 year class”, distribution “consistent over time”, recent exploitation “near F0.1
since 1995.” From the SSR: “Comparison of adult biomass and resultant recruitment
indicates that the relatively small 1992-98 year-classes have been produced at biomass
levels of 25,000t or less. The chance of poor recruitment is higher when the adult
biomass is less than 25,000t. Also, the ratio of recruitment to the adult biomass that
produced it remained stable during 1978 to 1995 but has declined since 1995, indicating
that year-class survivorship has declined.”
8. Yellowtail Flounder 5ZJM (already discussed).
This is a summary of the “best” stories that I could find in the FRCC’s assessment of the
Atlantic Canadian groundfish stocks. They are the most encouraging eleven out of the
total of 53 stocks. The others describe a whole group of fish species that are rapidly
I also did a tally on the “recruitment” indicators. 38/53 were “very poor,” “poor,” “below
average,” or “unknown,” 9/53 were “average,” 4/53 were “good” and 2/53 were “very
good.” The better ones...
Greenland halibut 4RST and redfish unit 2 recruitment was very good. Witch flounder
4VW, yellowtail 4T, cod 3PS and yellowtail 5ZJM were good. Yellowtail 3LNO,
Greenland Halibut 2 + 3KLMNO, haddock 4X, wolffish 4X, pollock 3PS (“positive signs
inshore”), Atlantic halibut 4RST (“some” recruitment), and haddock 5ZJM (“sporadic”)
were average. In the below average group it was noted for cod 2J3KL that recruitment
was very poor on the shelf and improved in the coastal area.
A final update on the Atlantic Canadian groundfish stocks is this: last week it was
reported that DFO has closed down the 3PS fishery on the request of the
FISHERMEN...apparently due to a real scarcity of fish. (An unhappy development since
the hopeful outlook for 3PS cod was described last summer.)
In other news, DFO reports that the Newfoundland snow crab stock is in serious decline
(possibly by as much as 50%). This is unsettling news for fishermen who have switched
to fishing crustaceans since the collapse of their traditional groundfisheries.
March 16, 2000