Nfld. & Labrador

Starving cod in southern Labrador? DFO monitoring fish stocks

Scientists are looking into reports from harvesters, who are catching cod with sometimes little more than seaweed and small jellyfish in their stomachs.

Harvesters reporting catching thin cod with little in their digestive systems

Cod harvesters in southern Labrador are reporting catching thin fish this year, with little inside their stomach contents. (CBC)

Scientists with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans are keeping a close eye on cod stocks in southern Labrador, in the wake of reports from harvesters catching fish in rough shape this season.

"What we're catching here now, it's very poor. There's nothing in the puttocks [digestive tract] of the fish," fisherman Warrick Chubbs told CBC's The Broadcast.

"Only little jellyfish, the size of your thumbnail, and not many of them. The very odd one, you'll see maybe one or two rotten shrimp."

Chubbs isn't alone in his concerns.

"It certainly seems like this year in southern Labrador the cod are not in very good condition at all," said DFO research scientist John Brattey, who is hearing multiple similar reports from the region.

"The cod are in poor condition, very thin, and not much yield when they fillet them, so that is a little bit of a concern."

Too early to tell

Brattey said the reports he's hearing are mainly in southern Labrador, which has a tiny fraction of the overall number of cod harvesters in the province: about 50 harvesters out of a total 1,700.

Further south, in places like Fogo and Twillingate, Brattey has heard mixed results, with both positive and poor catches coming in, leading to an overall tentative assessment that this year's fish aren't as healthy as in 2015.

It's not unusual to have the odd year where the fish are not in great shape.- John Brattey

"It's not unusual to have the odd year where the fish are not in great shape," Brattey said.

"If you get a succession of poor condition years, then it becomes a bit of a concern because then they may not reproduce as well, but we certainly haven't seen that."

Brattey pointed to a lack of capelin this year in southern Labrador as one potential cause: cod typically fatten up on the much smaller fish during the summer.

DFO scientists are monitoring commercial fish catches as well as conducting their own surveys, Brattey said, "to get the big picture across the whole stock area," but a full assessment will only come after the season wraps.

Scientists will then be keeping an eye on the cod to see whether this year is an anomaly or part of a larger trend.

With files from Labrador Morning and The Broadcast