FFAW and WWF sign agreement to ensure sustainable future cod fishery

An agreement signed Tuesday by Newfoundland and Labrador's largest fisheries workers union and the World Wildlife Fund of Canada is expected to breathe new life into Newfoundland and Labrador's moribund northern cod fishery
FFAW President Keith Sullivan and WWF-Canada President David Miller shake hands during the official launch of the Fisheries Improvement Project on Tuesday. (CBC)

An agreement signed Tuesday by Newfoundland and Labrador's largest fisheries workers union and the World Wildlife Fund of Canada is expected to breathe new life into Newfoundland and Labrador's moribund northern cod fishery. 

The Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada jointly signed off on the Fisheries Improvement Project at a meeting at FFAW headquarters in St. John's.

"We're no longer going to be defined by July 2, 1992," said FFAW President Keith Sullivan. "Today is about a focus on the future."

The northern cod stock in NAFO area 2J3KL, which stretches from Labrador to the Grand Banks, has shown clear signs of growth in some areas since 2006. (DFO)

The goal of the project is to get a viable commercial cod fishery once again operating in the zone known by those in the industry as 2J3KL, which stretches from the Labrador coast to the Grand Banks off eastern Newfoundland. There's been a moratorium on large-scale commercial fishing for northern cod since the stock collapsed in 1992.

Sullivan said with the WWF endorsing the plan, the FFAW and other groups can once again move forward with a commercial cod fishery, and be confident that it will be sustainable.

"We are pleased to work with WWF-Canada and other partners who recognize harvesters' commitment to ensure we build a sustainable northern cod fishery that benefits our coastal communities and the economy of our province," he said.

Expanding the fishery in a sustainable way

Sullivan insists with the inshore and offshore cod stocks on the rise, it's time to start looking at ways to move beyond a stewardship fishery and into a larger commercial fishery.

"In the 1990's, for example, we saw biomass estimates from DFO RV surveys in the 3,000 to 5,000 range," he said.

"Now we're closer to 200,000 and much of that increase has been in the last five-year range."

WWF-Canada's president and CEO David Miller stressed that any future commercial cod fishery in the province needs to be done with all stakeholders involved.

"We're delighted to be signing this agreement," he said.

"One of the lessons we've seen is that if you want to protect nature, you have deal directly with communities."

Getting other stakeholders involved

The Seafood Producers of Newfoundland and Labrador (SPONL) and the Fogo Island Co-Op are also backing the project, saying that being able to sell product under the 'sustainable' label is of considerable interest to buyers and retailers in Canada and abroad.  

In January 2011, WWF-Canada and Icewater Seafoods started Canada’s first Fishery Improvement Project in the 3PS cod fishery off the southern Newfoundland coast, and the project was seen as a success. (CBC)

Miller agrees with that notion, and said the Fisheries Improvement Project will ensure not only the sustainability of the fishery itself, but also make the final product more attractive to potential consumers looking to buy ecologically friendly seafood.

"The Northern Cod fishery shaped Canada's history for hundreds of years, and with the right kind of management and partnerships in place, this incredible part of our ecological and cultural history can continue to shape our future," he said. 

"People everywhere are asking that their fish come from sustainable sources, and this gives fisheries more incentive than ever to enter into community-focused recovery programs."

A step towards a renewed cod fishery

In January 2011, WWF-Canada and Icewater Seafoods started Canada's first Fisheries Improvement Project in the 3PS cod fishery off the coast of southern Newfoundland. The project set out a three-year action plan to see if fish could be harvested in a sustainable way — and was later touted by the WWF as a success.

On Tuesday, few details were given on when exactly a new commercial fishery will begin in the 2J3KL region, or how much cod will be allowed to be caught when it is launched.

Instead, Miller insists that right now it is more about getting the different stakeholders together to ensure that if and when a renewed commercial cod fishery does start up in Newfoundland and Labrador, it is done correctly.

"The Fisheries Improvement Project is not about next week," he said.

"This is about taking a resource that's showing significant signs of recovery at the moment, and ensuring that in the medium and long-term it's fished sustainably."