Five centuries of cod catches in Eastern Canada
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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OriginalversjonICES Journal of Marine Science. 2021, 78 (8), 2675-2683. 10.1093/icesjms/fsab153
The fishery for Northern Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) off Newfoundland and Labrador, Eastern Canada, presents the most spectacular case of an exploited stock crashed in a few decades by an industrial bottom trawl fishery under a seemingly sophisticated management regime after half a millennium of sustainable fishing. The fishery, which had generated annual catches of 100000 to 200000 tonnes from the beginning of the 16th century to the 1950s, peaked in 1968 at 810000 tonnes, followed by a devastating collapse and closure 24 years later. Since then, stock recovery may have been hindered by premature openings, with vessels targeting the remains of the cod population. Previous research paid little attention towards using multicentury time series to inform sustainable catches and recovery plans. Here, we show that a simple stock assessment model can be used to model the cod population trajectory for the entire period from 1508 to 2019 for which catch estimates are available. The model suggests that if fishing effort and mortality had been stabilized in the 1980s, precautionary annual yields of about 200000 tonnes could have been sustained. Our analysis demonstrates the value of incorporating prior knowledge to counteract shifting baseline effects on reference points and contemporary perceptions of historical stock status.