Fisheries laying waste to endangered fish stocks: WWF-Canada Report
(St. John’s, Newfoundland:
September 20, 2005)
A groundbreaking report released today by World Wildlife Fund Canada, (WWF-Canada), says many foreign and some Canadian fishing trawlers on the Grand Banks off Canada’s east coast are deliberately catching species at risk, including cod, and are throwing tens of thousands of tonnes of other species caught in their nets overboard, dead. These practices are threatening the future of the offshore fishery and putting at risk even more species of marine life according to WWF-Canada.
The WWF-Canada study, Bycatch on the High Seas: A Review of the Effectiveness of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, (NAFO), documents the devastating impact that indiscriminate fishing and bad international fisheries management are having on many species, including cod. Cod stocks are not recovering because of continued over-fishing, and the organization charged with policing international fishing, NAFO, is not doing enough about it.
“Bycatch” is the name for the marine species incidentally caught in fishing gear intended for other species. It includes not only fish that are not supposed to be caught, such as cod, but other fish species, corals, turtles, seabirds and even whales and dolphins. Species that are caught but are not commercially valuable are thrown overboard, dead. A percentage of those that are commercially valuable are kept and sold.
“We know that a number of these vessels are deliberately fishing where they know they will catch these ‘non-target’ species in order to maximize their profit. In some cases, ‘bycatch’ can make up as much as 80% of the landed catch,” says Dr. Robert Rangeley, Atlantic Marine Program Director, WWF-Canada.
“This report clarifies in a way we have never seen before just how large an impact ‘bycatch’ is having on fish stocks at risk such as cod,” he adds.
“Most people assume that because the fishing of some species is banned, that those fish stocks are no longer being caught, but this is not the case. We know that in 2003 alone up to 5400 tonnes of cod were caught as ‘bycatch’ on the southern Grand Banks. This was some 90% of the estimated stock at that time. While subsequent increased enforcement by the Canadian government has reduced rampant illegal cod overfishing, clearly cod stocks will not recover when almost the entire endangered population is removed as bycatch in a single year.”
WWF-Canada is calling on the Canadian government and its NAFO partners to save the species most at risk by immediately reducing the bycatch of cod on the southern Grand Banks by 80%, by protecting sensitive fish habitats by banning fishing on areas such as coral hotspots, by better enforcing existing NAFO fishing regulations and by reducing the number of trawlers on the Grand Banks.
In recognition of the responsibility of all NAFO fishing nations to take action, this report was also released today by WWF International in Gland, Switzerland. As well, it has been distributed to several NAFO delegations that are currently meeting this week in Estonia to set fisheries quotas for next year.
The report paints a grim picture of fisheries managed under NAFO, an international organization of 13 countries, including Canada, that fish off of Canada’s east coast. NAFO sets total allowable catch limits and other measures for the fish stocks it manages and allocates quotas to members. After an initial period of increases in the late 1970s and 1980s, many of the groundfish stocks managed by NAFO have declined dramatically.
In response to the issues raised in the report, WWF-Canada has launched a public awareness campaign designed to inform Canadians about the seriousness of the “bycatch” problem and spur the federal government to act. A hard-hitting TV spot has been produced showing a child in front of a giant aquarium admiring the fish just as a huge net comes in and scoops up everything in the tank. Print ads feature seabirds in a fish sandwich to illustrate the unintended consequences on other species. The ads call on Canadians to go to www.stopthenet.ca and see how they can help. The ads can be found at www.stopthenet.ca.
“Everyone realizes that we need to act swiftly in order to restore the awesome productivity in the Grand Banks region. Along with recovery comes the prospect of increased benefits for coastal communities both here in Canada and in other fishing nations,” said Mike Russill, President and CEO, WWF-Canada. “If we continue to condone these wasteful fisheries practices and destruction of marine biodiversity, we will never have a recovery and coastal communities will continue to suffer. The government of Canada and the fishing nations of the world can and must act now in order to save our fisheries.”