A new study into the state of cod stocks off the south coast of Newfoundland and Labrador shows a decline and high mortality rates.    

Lead researcher, Rick Rideout, says while stocks aren't in terrible shape, there is reason for concern.

"3PS cod is currently what we would call in the cautious zone … it's certainly below the target of where fisheries management would like the stock to be," said Rideout.

"We're okay, but we're not great."

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) report on the 3PS fishing zone — which stretches from Placentia Bay, along the Saint Pierre Bank, to the southwest coast of the province — was carried out in October. 

The area has a small commercial cod fishery, and last year, saw a modest increase in the allowable catch.

Northern cod

The October stock assessment shows that the spawning stock in 3PS is between four and seven-years-old. (Hans-Petter Fjeld )

Mortality worries

While the stock has been increasing for a number of years, Rideout said there has been a decline for the last two or three. 

"Our estimates of mortality are really high right now, as high as we've seen in monitoring this stock," Rideout told CBC's The Broadcast.

"The spawning stock has declined … so we have fish that aren't surviving to spawn a whole lot of times."

The report estimates total mortality has been increasing since 1997, and reached an average of 48 per cent between 2012 and 2014.

It said that the size, weight, fish condition and maturity levels are near the lowest observed.

Rideout said historically, survival rates have been higher. 

The spawning stock is now between the ages for four and seven years, which Rideout called a "pretty restricted" age.

"Basically, fish are not surviving to those older ages, they're coming into the stock ... but they're not surviving to older ages, and again, that's a big concern."

Newfoundland Cod

Researcher Sherrylynn Rowe with a large cod being tagged and released in one of the ongoing surveys of stocks off the province's coast. (Victoria Neville)


Rideout said that while the report states the 3PS stock is in the "cautious zone," with a probability of further decline, it basically gives advice, and ultimately it's up to management to govern the stock.

"We're not in terrible shape right now but certainly as DFO scientists we have some reason for caution, I think caution is a good word right now."