Press release

MSC certification of the first Canadian Atlantic cod stock shows positive progress

March 22, 2016

The Canada Newfoundland 3Ps cod fishery has become the country’s first Atlantic cod fishery to achieve Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification as sustainable and well managed.

This milestone certification marks a new page in the history of Atlantic cod in Canada. It signals to the world that collaborative efforts from fisheries, industry, government and NGOs have the power to improve the health of fish stocks while sustaining hope for the communities that rely on fishing for their livelihoods.

Meeting the world’s most recognized standard for sustainability

To achieve MSC certification the 3Ps cod fishery demonstrated that it meets a high bar of sustainability set by the MSC Fishery Standard.  Widely recognized as the world’s most credible and robust standard for sustainable fishing, the MSC Standard is founded on three principles: a healthy fish stock, protection of the surrounding marine ecosystem, and effective fishery management. 

“We are proud of the work completed by everyone involved in the journey to achieving MSC certification for 3Ps cod,” says Alberto Wareham, CEO of Icewater Seafoods Ltd, a member of the client group for the MSC certification. “As the seventh generation of my family working in this fishery, sustainability is important to us. I know it is also important to our customers and we are confident that the MSC certification will provide the assurance that our cod comes from a sustainable and well-managed source. It will also help the fishery remain sustainable through the natural ecosystem variations experienced off our coasts.

A collective effort towards continuous improvement

Many Atlantic Canadian cod fisheries were placed under moratorium in the 1990s as ecosystem changes and fishery management failures caused these once abundant stocks to fall.  While cod populations in some areas have been slow to recover, the cod stock in NAFO zone 3Ps has improved*. From 2010 to 2014 this cod stock was the subject of an extensive Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) led by World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF) with participation from Icewater Seafoods, Ocean Choice International (OCI) and the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union. 

Together with support from Fisheries and Oceans Canada with financial contributions from Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, the Sustainable Fisheries Fund program of Resources Legacy Fund and High Liner Foods, the joint efforts by all industry stakeholders involved enabled the FIP to make significant strides in preparation for MSC assessment.  Management improvements focused on identifying fishery reference points, the adoption of harvest control rules and studies of fishing gear impacts and bycatch.

Martin Sullivan, CEO of OCI and also a member of the client group for the certification adds: “Currently almost all major species in the OCI portfolio are MSC certified, and we are extremely pleased to add this key species from the local fishery to our engagement in the MSC program. We are keen to see continued recovery of other cod stocks in waters adjacent to Newfoundland and Labrador.” 

Markets securing livelihoods

Hundreds of fishers and plant workers along the south coast of Newfoundland depend on cod for their livelihoods. Cod from 3Ps is primarily sold in Europe and North America, and Icewater Seafoods has been working closely with retailers in the U.K. where both cod and the MSC ecolabel are sought by consumers.

“We are extremely happy to witness the turning of a page in the long-running history of this Canadian fishery,” says Jay Lugar, Program Director for MSC in Canada. “The MSC is pleased to provide a platform for all participants to enhance sustainability and good management of important Canadian fisheries and congratulates the client group for succeeding with MSC certification for 3Ps cod.”

Continued improvement

As part of the MSC Theory of Change, MSC certification requires annual audits by an independent certifier to ensure that each fishery retains its status while also implementing improvements, allowing it to progress toward a higher level of sustainability.

As the 3Ps cod stock continues its resurgence, the fishery has committed to set and meet improvement goals over the course of five years.

Assessment process

The assessment against the MSC Fisheries Standard was conducted by Acoura Marine, an accredited, third-party certification body, in a robust, scientific, transparent process that considered all available information presented by all fishery participants and stakeholders with an interest in the fishery.

*3Ps as a distinct cod stock

The certified 3Ps cod stock covers a small area south of Newfoundland and is managed as distinct and separated from neighbouring stocks, isolated by geographical characteristics. The 2J3KL cod stock (often called northern cod) in the Newfoundland and Labrador Region, and the 3NO cod stock on the Grand Banks have remained under a fishing moratorium since 1992.

Stock surveys show that populations in the southern Newfoundland 3Ps area have recovered faster than in other areas and are returning to healthy levels. Strict management procedures mean that the fishery is taking action in 3Ps in order to encourage a continuing return to a maximum sustainable level, considered to represent a healthy fish population.

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