We urge Canada's government not to act on proposals to imminently ramp up the fishery for northern cod (Gadus morhua) along Newfoundland and Labrador's east coast. Although the stock has made a remarkable comeback since its collapse in the early 1990s — in parallel with other factors such as a greater abundance of cod's key prey, capelin (Mallotus villosus) — numbers are still well below historical norms.
A decision to increase cod fishing would fly in the face of scientists' recommendations under the Canadian government's decision-making framework for fisheries, which uses a precautionary approach. Their advice includes encouraging ecosystem-based management that recognizes the importance of food webs, and keeping fish removals as low as possible until the stock surpasses the minimum abundance needed for optimal production.
After last year's stock assessment, modified management practices allowed the catch to double — even though no rebuilding plan was in place to provide target reference points, timelines or harvest-control rules. There was no stock assessment this spring, despite the advice of the Canadian parliamentary fisheries committee for annual assessments. Meanwhile, the available data indicate that the cod's comeback may have stalled (see go.nature.com/2r9stje).
Signs of a pending decline in cod productivity include lower inshore catch rates and smaller increases in surveyed biomass. The rise in capelin might also have slowed. We therefore strongly advise against stepping up fishing for northern cod at this time. Doing so risks derailing long-term stock recovery and a rebuilt fishery.