A fisheries economics study commissioned by Oceana Canada reveals that a rebuilt northern cod fishery could provide 16 times more jobs and have a net present value worth up to five times more than today. With low fishing pressure and favourable environmental conditions, the fishery could recover in as few as 11 years, supporting economic activities worth $233 million in today’s dollars.
On the cusp of a 2019 northern cod quota announcement by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, these findings, highlighted in Oceans of Opportunity: The economic case for rebuilding northern cod, underscore the importance of setting science-based quotas and reveal the long-term cost of delaying recovery. The economic activity generated by the fishery could potentially increase from the current value of $36 million, employing approximately 1,600 people, to a rebuilt potential of $233 million in today’s dollars, supporting 26,000 jobs.
“There is tremendous potential to rebuild northern cod to healthy levels and support a lucrative, sustainable fishery,” says Josh Laughren, Executive Director, Oceana Canada. “Unless we change our approach and actively manage for recovery, this stock risks remaining in a critically depleted state, providing a fraction of its potential value to communities, now and into the future.”
Northern cod once supported massive fisheries, drove economies and fed millions, until it collapsed in the early 1990s. Its biomass today remains at just half the amount at which it would move out of the critical zone—the level in which serious harm is occurring to the stock—and conservation action is crucial.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada policy states that when a stock is in the critical zone, fishing mortality should be kept at the lowest possible level. Despite this, and the fact that northern cod is still under moratorium, the commercial fishery harvested more than 9,000 tonnes last year and an unknown amount was fished recreationally.
“For decades, the federal government has not followed its own policies or scientific advice on quotas and has failed to deliver a rebuilding plan for northern cod,” says Dr. Robert Rangeley, Science Director, Oceana Canada. “This study shows that the long-term potential of this fishery vastly outweighs the limited returns we might get from it now. We are calling on Fisheries and Oceans Canada to set a quota that supports recovering the population to a healthy level that can sustain a large catch without reducing the population in the long-term.”
Rangeley adds that despite an announcement this year that northern cod showed a slight increase in biomass, it is too early in the population’s fragile recovery to increase fishing pressure.
“A slight increase has led some industry members to call for much higher quotas,” says Rangeley. “History has shown that increasing fishing before a stock is ready can delay recovery and squander its economic potential. Rebuilding is about getting to the healthy zone, with more fish and long-term benefits for everyone.”
There is an urgent need for the government to intensify its efforts to rebuild Canada’s fisheries. The loss of fish abundance jeopardizes social and economic well-being and the health of our oceans. In Canada, only 34 per cent of fish populations are healthy and more than 13 per cent are critically depleted, including northern cod. Of 26 critically depleted stocks, only five have rebuilding plans in place. The value of our $6.9 billion-dollar seafood export market is highly concentrated on just a few species. Lobster, crab and shrimp species make up nearly 58 per cent of the total value. Canada has gone from being the seventh largest producer of wild fish by weight in the 1950s to 21st place today.
To read the full Oceans of Opportunity: The economic case for rebuilding northern cod report click here.
About the Economic and Social Benefits of Fisheries Rebuilding study
To understand Canada’s full potential for abundant, healthy oceans, Oceana Canada commissioned a study by leading fisheries economists that analyzed the socio-economic costs and benefits of rebuilding fisheries. Economic and Social Benefits of Fisheries Rebuilding focuses on the economic outcomes of fisheries recovery based on different environmental conditions and levels of fishing pressure. Three scenarios were analyzed based on slow, expected and fast recovery (i.e., how favourable the environmental conditions are), paired with either low fishing pressure or a fishery closure. The study shows that the management strategy of fishery closures always produced higher economic gains compared to low fishing, regardless of the rate of fish stock recovery among the case studies analyzed.
The report was authored by Dr. Louise Teh, Research Associate, Fisheries Economics Research Unit, University of British Columbia and Dr. Rashid Sumaila, Professor, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries and the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, University of British Columbia.
About Oceana Canada
Oceana Canada is an independent charity and part of the largest international advocacy group dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana Canada believes that Canada has a national and global obligation to manage our natural resources responsibly and help ensure a sustainable source of protein for the world’s growing population. Oceana Canada works with civil society, academics, fishers, Indigenous Peoples and the federal government to return Canada’s formerly vibrant oceans to health and abundance. By restoring Canada’s oceans, we can strengthen our communities, reap greater economic and nutritional benefits, and protect our future.
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