Atlantic cod

The Atlantic cod is one of several commerical fish species that COSEWIC is considering for threatened or endangered status. (Patrick Gijsbers/WikiMedia Commons)

Several valuable commercial fish species in Newfoundland and Labrador, including Atlantic cod and redfish, are being considered for threatened or endangered status, CBC News has confirmed.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has recommended Fisheries and Oceans protect select populations of Atlantic cod, American Plaice, deep water redfish and Acadian redfish under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).

DFO has been going through a public consultation process related to the recommendations. 

If, at the end of the SARA assessment process, the department agrees with the COSEWIC recommendations, it would mean the end of those fisheries — which are worth a combined total of approximately $10 million in landed value annually.

"If listed under the Act as endangered or threatened, these species would be subject to prohibitions and therefore it would be illegal to kill, harm, possess, buy or sell fish from these populations, or destroy their critical habitat," a DFO spokesperson told the Fisheries Broadcast. 

Substantial stock declines

COSEWIC has recommended:

  • Atlantic cod in waters throughout the province be listed as endangered due to a population decline of 97 to 99 per cent off Labrador and northeastern Newfoundland over the past 33 years, and a 76 to 89 per cent population decline in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and on the south coast in 3Ps over the past 30 years. Threats to the stocks were identified as directed fishing and bycatch, as well as natural mortality.
  • Acadian/deep water redfish in southern Newfoundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence be listed as endangered, and that the northern population of deep water redfish off Labrador and north-eastern and eastern Newfoundland be listed as threatened. COSEWIC says there have been anywhere from approximately 97 to 99 per cent decline in adult abundance over three generations. Threats to the species were identified as directed fishing and by-catch and, potentially, seal predation in some areas. 
  • American plaice be listed as threatened in Newfoundland and Labrador waters, due to a decline in adult abundance of 94 to 96 per cent in those areas over three generations (48 years). Threats identified by COSEWIC included directed fishing and by-catch.

Lengthy process

The process of designating a species endangered or threatened is a detailed one.

Once COSEWIC makes its species assessments known to the federal Environment Minister —  who has the lead for SARA — the department then forwards any fish species that are governed under DFO's jurisdiction to the Fisheries Minister.

"That's when our process kicks in," said Helen Griffiths, regional manager for SARA at DFO in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"If DFO has jurisdiction we respond to those assessments. We do internal scientific assessments, we look at the socio-economic implications of listing or not listing and we do public consultations, and that's where we are now," she said.

Atlantic cod has been on put forward by COSEWIC in the past for designation under SARA in 2003-2004. As part of its mandate, COSEWIC has to reassess species any it recommends for SARA designation every 10 years. Cod was reassessed in 2010.

Redfish and American plaice are new additions to the block, having been first assessed in 2009 and 2010 respectively.

Griffiths said the public consultation process will continue until January 31, 2014. After that, DFO will take time to decide whether to reject or accept COSEWIC's recommendations.

"It's a lengthy process after the consultation period if up," Griffiths said. "It's very difficult to put a timeline on it but it certainly doesn't happen overnight."