The Cod Comeback

Published 2015-10-27

Although it is important to understand the problems facing marine ecosystems, it is just as important to study conservation success stories and take lessons from these events to shape future work. Often referred to as the “icon” of overfishing and fisheries mismanagement, the northern Atlantic cod is now viewed instead as a success story in conservation. According to new research from Rose and Rowe (2015), the populations of northern Atlantic cod are making a comeback and recovering from stock decline. Due to overfishing, the northern Atlantic cod populations plummeted in the 1990’s and have declined over the last two decades to just tens of thousands of tonnes. Now, after changes in management policies, the stocks are estimated at several hundred thousand tonnes.

Rose and Rowe attribute this comeback to three main steps in fisheries management policies: 1) Improvement of the environmental quality along the spawning migration route in the Bonavista Corridor after fifteen years of moratorium on fishing, 2) Improvement of conditions in two more northerly migration routes and subsequent repopulation of these areas, 3) Strengthening in fish recruitment events in all migration routes.

The improvement in environmental quality is mainly attributed to the increase in capelin as a food stock and a sharp reduction in fishing. These steps have given the population a chance to recover. The success story of the northern Atlantic cod illustrates the importance of responsible management from the beginning, rather than a reactive response after decline starts to occur. Even though the cod are on their way to recovery, they are not out of the woods yet, and continued monitoring and mitigation of impacts is necessary to ensure that the population continues in an upward trajectory. As we watch the recovery of the northern Atlantic cod, it shows that perhaps there is potential for other fisheries around the world to become a success story as well.


George A. Rose, Sherrylynn Rowe. Northern cod comeback. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 2015; 1789 DOI: 10.1139/cjfas-2015-0346