Severely depleted cod stocks in the Grand Banks off Canada's east coast face being totally wiped out by illegal fishing, the World Wildlife Federation said Monday.
OTTAWA Severely depleted cod stocks in the Grand Banks off Canada's east coast face being totally wiped out by illegal fishing, the World Wildlife Federation said Monday.
The conservation group said mainly foreign-registered boats were disguising their catch of cod as bycatch -- a term used to describe the accidental capture of fish that are banned from commercial exploitation.
The WWF report reflects the dire state of the once-rich cod fishery off the Atlantic province of Newfoundland, which was shut down almost 15 years ago to let it recover.
"Illegal fishing disguised as accidental catch of fish banned from commercial use is threatening to wipe out remaining cod stocks in the Grand Banks off Canada's east coast," the organization said in a news release.
"In 2003 alone, 5,400 tonnes of cod were caught as bycatch in the southern Grand Banks -- about 90 percent of the total population in that area and a 30-fold increase in bycatch since the fishery was closed," it said. Portuguese, Spanish and Russian vessels took the majority of the cod, it added.
According to the WWF, fishing boats are allowed to keep -- and sell at a profit -- a small percentage of prohibited fish caught accidentally. It said this had level to massive abuse of the system.
"The current level of cod bycatch clearly means that this species has little chance of recovery in the Grand Banks," said Robert Rangeley of WWF-Canada.
The Grand Banks are managed by the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), an international grouping of fishing nations that has its headquarters in Canada.
The WWF accused NAFO of doing a bad job and called on the Canadian government and other NAFO nations to cut the bycatch of cod on the southern Grand Banks by 80 percent.
The Canadian Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans said Ottawa was paying attention to the bycatch issue and supported the general tone of the report.
"(We) are actively working on certain initiatives to work on bycatch," said spokeswoman Sophie Galarneau, adding that Canadian vessels were required to come up with plans for cutting bycatch levels.
"We have observers on (Canadian) vessels to monitor this and we have the power to close down fisheries when bycatch is at the level that has been set," she said.
When pressed as to what Canada could be doing to cut illegal fishing by foreign vessels, Galarneau said the issue was being discussed at a NAFO meeting this week in Estonia.
Last year Canada said it would spend an extra C$15 million ($12 million) to boost patrols off the Grand Banks and would board more foreign vessels.