Prominent fisheries observers are warning that new data showing a strong growth in cod numbers on the Grand Banks may lead to pressure to revive commercial fishing.
The World Wildlife Fund on Thursday revealed that the cod population on the Grand Banks had jumped by 69 per cent from numbers taken in 2007.
But Jeff Hutchings, a Dalhousie University biologist who has tracked cod populations for years, said cod on the Grand Banks — where commercial fishing has been illegal since 1994 — are still in a precarious state, representing just a tenth of historic levels seen in the 1960s.
Hutchings said he is worried that politicians will be lobbied to open up commercial activity on the Grand Banks, off Newfoundland's east coast.
"All too often, certain sectors of the fishing industry look to very short-term increases, think about their short-term interests and increase pressure on politicians and whomever to increase quotas," Hutchings told CBC News.
A much larger moratorium on Northern cod, a species that once flourished off Newfoundland's northeast coast, has been in place since 1992.
Hutchings said fishing interests have lobbied in the past for commercial activity to resume before a stock can adequately recover.
"Sadly, that's been the history of fishery reopenings and catch-quota increases," he said.
Gus Etchegary, a retired Newfoundland fisheries executive who has become better known as a conservationist, said the WWF's release is not only misleading but potentially dangerous.
"Sixty-nine per cent of nothing is nothing," Etchegary said.
"It's misinformation beyond belief. It's creating an entirely false expectation, and unfortunately for an organization such as the WWF, it's irresponsible."
The data released by the WWF come from the scientific council of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, which will be holding its annual meeting next week.
Hutchings said the timing of the release of the information is worrisome, as it may prompt NAFO member countries to campaign for higher fishing quotas.