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Team NAFO 2013: Exploring all courses to Sustainable Fisheries

As the start of the NAFO (Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation) 2013 Annual Meeting in Halifax draws near, my fellow Pandas and I are working diligently to finalise our recommendations for the year ahead.  This annual event is a critical part of WWF’s goal towards rebuilding a healthy and sustainable Grand Banks ocean ecosystem.

Over the past decade, WWF’s approach to ocean conservation in Canada has expanded considerably. In addition to building awareness on the negative impacts of by-catch and promoting rebuilding plans for depleted stocks, we’re also working to promote an ecosystem approach to fisheries management that encompasses 19 commercial stocks comprised of 11 species, sensitive benthic areas such as corals and sponges, sharks and whales. A heavy workload for a small but mighty team!

Atlantic cod, Finnmark, Norway

Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua)
© Erling Svensen / WWF-Canon

It seems our hard work is paying off. We’ve so far witnessed the adoption of rebuilding strategies for cod and American plaice on the Grand Bank, and further offshore we are now seeing a marked increase in the Flemish Cap cod stock – so much of an increase that a commercial fishery has reopened in the area. Now, I’m not running out to buy a bottle of champagne just yet! There‘s still loads of work to be done with 9 stocks still under moratorium and a “proceed with caution” sign tattooed on several others. Underlying these problems is a significant lack of information available to the scientists charged with making heads or tails out of the fish stocks.

Now to really get confusing……

During the Annual Meeting, NAFO’s Fisheries Commission is tasked with the delicate job of determining how to best manage the fish stocks that straddle the 200-mile boundary that falls under Canada’s control. To make a long story short, the best interests of the fish stocks will be weighed against the competing interests of 12 contracting parties who fish the Grand Banks. These interests do not always have the long-term sustainability of fish stocks as their top priority. Ensuring that profits are attainable and fair allocation of catch quotas are also an intrinsic part of the negotiations too. They do, however, share a similar need to meet the demand of their markets where their catch is sold. WWF is very in-tune with this fact and through our Market Transformation strategy we have harnessed the power of the market to create a demand for sustainable fisheries in both the domestic and European markets. But it’s a big world out there and not all consumers “tastes” for sustainability are alike.

In our quest for a healthy and vibrant ocean ecosystem we will continue to navigate all courses that lead to sustainable Grand Banks fisheries. My Pandas and I will keep working with NAFO scientists and managers, the international and domestic fishing fleets and the global markets to discover all possibilities and opportunities to make our goal for the Grand Banks a reality.


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