Language selection


Rebuilding plan for Atlantic cod - NAFO Division 5Z


Picture of Atlantic cod
Atlantic cod
(Gadus morhua)

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has developed A fishery decision-making framework incorporating the precautionary approach  under the auspices of the Sustainable Fisheries Framework. It outlines the departmental methodology for applying the precautionary approach to Canadian fisheries. A key component of the precautionary approach framework requires that when a stock has reached or fallen below a limit reference point (LRP), a rebuilding plan must be in place with the aim of having a high probability of the stock growing above the LRP within a reasonable timeframe.

The purpose of this rebuilding plan is to identify the main objectives and requirements for Atlantic cod in NAFO division 5Z, as well as the management measures that will be used to achieve these objectives. This document also serves to communicate the basic information on 5Z Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) and its management to DFO staff, First Nations and other Indigenous organizations, and other fishery interests. This plan provides a common understanding of the basic rules for rebuilding this stock. The objectives and measures outlined in this plan are applicable as long as 5Z Atlantic cod is below the LRP. Management measures outlined in this rebuilding plan are mandatory and may be modified to include additional catch restrictions if they fail to result in stock rebuilding.

This rebuilding plan is not a legally binding instrument which can form the basis of a legal challenge. The plan can be modified at any time and does not fetter the Minister's discretionary powers set out in the Fisheries Act . The Minister can, for reasons of conservation or for any other valid reasons, modify any provision of this rebuilding plan in accordance with the powers granted pursuant to the Fisheries Act.

Signed: Regional Director, Fisheries Management, Maritimes Region


In 2017, a new 4VWX5 groundfish Integrated Fisheries Management Plan  (IFMP) was developed by DFO and the Scotia-Fundy Groundfish Advisory Committee (SFGAC). Information that pertains to the mixed groundfish fishery, which includes Atlantic cod, can be found in the IFMP and is referenced throughout this document.

Eastern Georges Bank (eGB) Atlantic cod are a transboundary resource managed collaboratively with the United States (US), and the management unit is Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) Division 5Zjm (Figure 1).

The Gulf of Maine Advisory Committee (GOMAC) is a forum wherein representatives of Indigenous communities, the fishing industry and governments can jointly develop and provide advice on matters pertaining to Gulf of Maine fisheries issues. For 3 transboundary groundfish stocks in NAFO Division 5Z (eGB cod, eGB haddock, and Georges Bank yellowtail flounder), GOMAC is the primary advisory body to the Department on issues related to total allowable catch (TAC) and other fisheries management measures (see Appendix 4 of the 4VWX5 groundfish IFMP for GOMAC Terms of Reference ).

The last scientific assessment for Atlantic cod stock in NAFO Division 5Zjm  was completed in 2018. The 2018 assessment applies the model formulations from the 2013 Benchmark (Claytor and O’Brien, 2013), along with an empirical approach introduced in 2016 (Brooks et al. 2016).

Outcomes from the application of this plan will be reviewed annually to determine if changes to the plan are required, and this Rebuilding Plan will be reviewed and revised as needed following the identification of a new assessment model.

I. Biological synopsis

Atlantic cod is a bottom dwelling North Atlantic fish that ranges from Georges Bank (5Zjm) to Northern Labrador in the Canadian Atlantic (Figure 1). Seasonal spawning migrations and a number of spawning areas exist in 5Zjm (e.g., spring spawning on Georges Bank). Tagging studies have shown some mixing between cod in 5Zjm and spawning components in adjacent management units (i.e. 4X5Y), but current management agreements between Canada and the US assume no significant exchange with adjacent stocks (DFO 2011). Recently, the stock shows a truncated age structure relative to earlier time periods with very few fish older than age 7 (DFO 2018).

Cod are generalist feeders and prey preferences vary by life stage and prey availability, starting with zooplankton at the larval stage, and shifting to invertebrates and a predominantly piscivorous diet as they grow (Kohler and Fitzerald 1969, Langton and Bowman 1980, McLaren and Avendad 1995, Link and Garrison 2002). Demersal juveniles prefer habitat with complex bottom structure and vegetation, thought to provide protection and reduce juvenile mortality rates (DFO 2011).

Atlantic cod are serial batch spawners with individuals typically releasing several batches of eggs during spawning. Age at first reproduction for the 5Zjm stock generally occurs at 2 to 3 years of age. Generation time is estimated at 7.5 years with a 3-generation time period of 22.5 years (DFO 2011).

Map of Georges Bank (5Z) with statistical areas.
Figure 1: Georges Bank (5Z) with statistical areas. The red (bolded) line outlines the management area for eastern Georges Bank cod (DFO 2017).

Habitat requirements

Previous investigations have concluded that the concept of residence, as defined in the Species at Risk Act 2(1), does not apply to cod and there is no indication the amount of suitable habitat is limiting the recovery of cod in this area (DFO 2011). Warming waters have impacts on the ecosystem that can be complex and can include changes in productivity as thermal habitats shift (NEFSC 2018). It is not known what impact these changes in thermal habitat will have on the recovery of cod in this area.

Hare et al. (2016) completed a climate vulnerability assessment on 82 fish and invertebrate species in the Northeast U.S. Shelf and concluded that Atlantic cod has a very high potential for a change in species distribution and very high certainty that climate change will have a negative directional effect.  A risk analysis completed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA 2017) provides qualitative information on Northeast groundfish species vulnerability and the probable response to ecosystem indicators. They found that increasing mean fall bottom temperatures, increasing sea surface temperatures, decreasing cool thermal habitats, and species distribution changes are expected to have a negative impact on Georges Bank Atlantic cod.  

The spatial distribution of cod (ages 3 and older) caught during the 2017 National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) fall, 2018 DFO, and NMFS spring surveys was similar to observations from those surveys over the previous decade. Most fish were concentrated along the northern part of Georges Bank (Andrushchenko et al. 2018). However, there is evidence of increasing temperature on Georges Bank in long-term sea surface records as well as bottom measurements from surveys. Warming waters have impacts on the ecosystem that can be complex and can include changes in productivity as thermal habitats shift (NEFSC 2018).

DFO’s Maritimes Region delivers regional programs and services in support of the national mandate for Fish Habitat Management  and Oceans Management .

For more information on habitat requirements, please refer to Section 5.3 of the 4VWX5 groundfish IFMP.

II. Overview of the fishery

Historically, the 5Z Atlantic cod stock supported a significant directed fishery. Currently, as a result of substantial declines in stock biomass and consequent low quota levels, only a very small amount of directed fishing takes place, mainly conducted by the fixed gear fleet using longlines, gillnets and handlines. The majority of Atlantic cod in Divisions 5Z are caught as bycatch in a mixed species fishery that includes haddock, halibut, pollock, redfish and other species (4VWX5 Groundfish IFMP) (See Table 1 for fleet shares). Several other non-groundfish fisheries catch cod as bycatch in 5Z but are not permitted to land this species (DFO 2011). There are currently no known recreational nor Aboriginal Food, Social and Ceremonial components to the 5Z cod fishery, but reporting mechanisms for these fisheries are incomplete.

Table 1: Fleet shares for 5Z cod. Fixed gear refers to longlines, gillnets, and handlines while mobile gear refers mainly to otter trawls. Each fleet is described by the vessel lengths historically permitted for that fleet (i.e., fixed gear <45’ licences are restricted to a vessel no more than 44’11”).
Fleet Percent share
Aboriginal EA (Mobile gear <65’) 4.224
Fixed gear <45' 48.438
Fixed gear 45' -64' 6.503
Mobile gear <65' 23.345
Fixed gear 65' -100' 0.784
Mobile gear 65' -100' 0.784
Vessels >100' 3.922
Bycatch reserve 12.000

Additional information on the 5Z Atlantic cod fishery can be found below in Section IV, Socio-Economic and Cultural Importance.

In recent years, Eastern Georges Bank cod quotas have been set at low levels to promote rebuilding, while the Eastern Georges Bank haddock quota has increased since 2013 due to stock increases. As a result, cod quota availability for bycatch needs has been a potentially limiting factor in the haddock fishery in recent years.

Recognizing that groundfish discards by the offshore Scallop fishery were a significant source of fishery removals in 2006, Canada set aside bycatch reserves from its share of the TACs to cover bycatch on Eastern Georges Bank. The reserve is 12 percent of cod from Canada’s share. Discarding of cod is required in the offshore scallop fishery but prohibited in groundfish fisheries. Mortality of discards for groundfish species in the offshore scallop fishery are expected to be 100 percent and therefore are treated as catch.

Since the initial implementation of the bycatch reserves, modifications to fishing practices and gear have reduced the estimated discards in the offshore scallop fleet. As a result, there have been end-of-year surpluses remaining in the reserve. In order to address bycatch needs in the Canadian haddock fishery, in 2012 the Department implemented a midseason temporary reallocation through a Bycatch Reserve Redistribution Process. Catch information from January 1 to June 30 is used for estimating discards and calculating the expected surplus, with an expectation that the redistribution will occur by September 15. The redistribution to the groundfish fleet sectors is based on existing percentage shares. Reconciliation from the bycatch reserve in following years will occur if estimated bycatch exceeds the amount in the reserve.

III. Stock status

Stock assessment

Transboundary assessment

After 1977, the US and Canada used national institutions for stock evaluation of Georges Bank stocks. The analyses were supported by exchanges of respective fishery and scientific information as well as complementary participation in the review processes. This cooperation culminated in the formation of the Transboundary Management Guidance Committee (TMGC) to provide non-binding guidance to both countries. The Transboundary Resources Assessment Committee (TRAC) is the scientific arm of the TMGC; the TRAC is the forum for joint science advice and conducts the peer-review of the status of transboundary resources considered by the TMGC (eGB cod, eGB haddock, and Georges Bank yellowtail flounder). The most recent information is available on the TRAC website .

Under the Canada – US Transboundary Resources Understanding (2003) for groundfish stocks, both countries are responsible for accounting for all fishing mortality under the respective country quotas for yellowtail flounder, cod and haddock. TACs for these 3 species are recommended annually and divided between both countries using predetermined formulas. All mortalities of these 3 species (directed fishing and discards) must be accounted for against each country’s share of the established TACs. Canada accounts for 3 sources of fishing mortality on 5Zjm: landings and estimated illegal discards from the directed groundfish fleet and estimated legal discards from the offshore Scallop fleet which catches these stocks as an incidental catch.

Country sharing arrangements

The last assessment for Georges Bank (5Zjm) cod was completed by the TRAC in 2018 and country shares are subject to change annually (Table 2).

Table 2: TAC and country shares for 5Z cod.
2017 2018
TAC (t) Quota (t) Share TAC (t) Quota (t) Share
  Canada US Canada US   Canada US Canada US
730 584 146 80% 20% 950 694 256 73% 27%

Stock scenarios

In 2011 a recovery potential assessment (RPA) was carried out by DFO Science to provide the information and scientific advice required to inform decisions regarding the listing of Southern Designatable Unit (DU) cod under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and the development of recovery strategies (DFO 2011a, DFO 2011d).

Model-independent calculations of total mortality (Z) for eGB cod imply that total mortality on older ages remains high, while relative F (fishery catch at age over survey abundance indices) has declined significantly since the 1990s (Figure 2). The 2018 stock assessment, using a Virtual Population Analysis (VPA) model, assumed a natural mortality (M) for Atlantic cod of 0.8 for ages 6+ since 1994. Although additional research is required to identify the major drivers of high natural mortality, a variety of factors that could potentially contribute have been identified, including predation, disease, unfavorable environmental conditions, unreported discards, and/or unreported landings (DFO 2011/034; DFO 2011/036). Fishing mortality estimated by the 2018 VPA was high prior to 1994, then declined in 1995, but a strong retrospective pattern in the VPA model creates uncertainty around the most recent estimates of F (Andrushchenko et al. 2018).

Since 1992, there have only been 3 notable recruitment events (2003, 2010, 2013) for 5Zjm cod, but the magnitude of these events is far below the pre-1990 average of 10 million fish per year (Andrushchenko et al. 2018). The current estimate of spawning stock biomass is well below 25,000 mt; the threshold above which higher recruitment events were observed in the past (Andrushchenko et al. 2018; Figure 3).

High total mortality, low weights at age in the population, and poor recruitment have contributed to the lack of rebuilding for eastern Georges Bank cod (TRAC 2018).

Figure 2: Relative F (catch / survey abundance) from the DFO (left) and NMFS (right) spring surveys on young (ages 4-5) and old (ages 6-8) cod on Eastern Georges Bank (Andruschenko et al. 2018).

Figure 2: Relative F (catch / survey abundance) from the DFO (left) and NMFS (right) spring surveys on young (ages 4-5) and old (ages 6-8) cod on Eastern Georges Bank (Andruschenko et al. 2018).

Figure 3: Adult (ages 3+) biomass (left) and year class abundance at age 1 (right) for Eastern Georges Bank cod (Andruschenko et al. 2018).

Figure 3: Adult (ages 3+) biomass (left) and year class abundance at age 1 (right) for Eastern Georges Bank cod (Andruschenko et al. 2018).

Precautionary approach

The United Nations Agreement on Straddling and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks (UNFA), which came into force in 2001, commits Canada to use the Precautionary Approach in managing straddling stocks as well as domestic stocks. In 2003, the Privy Council Office, on behalf of the Government of Canada, published a framework applicable to all federal government departments that set out guiding principles for the application of precaution to decision making about risks of serious or irreversible harm where there is a lack of full scientific certainty.

In 2009, subsequent to these commitments, DFO developed a Fishery Decision-Making Framework Incorporating the Precautionary Approach, which applies where decisions on harvest strategies or harvest rates for a stock must be taken to determine TAC or other measures to control harvests. The framework applies to key harvested stocks managed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada: those stocks that are the specific and intended targets of a fishery, whether in a commercial, recreational or subsistence fishery. In applying the framework, all removals of these stocks from all types of fishing must be taken into account.

The following are the primary components of the generalized framework:

Reference points

TMGC has adopted a strategy to maintain a low to neutral risk of exceeding the fishing mortality reference, FREF, and to further reduce fishing mortality rates when stock conditions are poor. At the 2013 Georges Bank Atlantic cod benchmark meeting, it was agreed that FREF = 0.18 is not consistent with the VPA “M 0.8” model. At the 2014 TRAC, it was agreed that F = 0.11 was a more appropriate fishing mortality reference point for the VPA “M 0.8” model than FREF.

During the 2016 TRAC meeting, it was noted that the assessment model-estimated catch at age in the fishery appears to have diverged from what is seen in the surveys, with surveys catching a higher proportion of older fish than are seen in the fishery catch data (ie, dome-shaped selectivity). As a result, it has not been possible since 2016 to determine whether fishing mortality is below FREF (TRAC 2018). The development of a new stock assessment model to address this issue will be a priority for the stock assessment planned for 2020.

In addition to the Harvest Strategy developed by the TMGC, a strategy that is compliant with Canadian policy guidance has also been developed for this stock. These objectives, strategies and reference points describe explicitly how the stock is to be managed within Canada. They may also be used to guide Canadian members during negotiations at TMGC to advance positions consistent with these objectives.

Fishing mortality limit reference (FLIM) = 0.11

Limit Reference Point (LRP) = 21,000 t

The Limit Reference Point is based on a Beverton-Holt stock-recruitment model (Clark et. al. 2011).

Upper Stock Reference (USR) = 34,000 t

The upper stock reference point was established in 2013 through discussions at the GOMAC.

Strategies and tactics employed for this stock are further described in Section VII, Management Measures, and are consistent with those described in section 6.2 of the 4VWX5 Groundfish IFMP .

COSEWIC assessment / SARA considerations

In its 2003 assessment of Atlantic cod in Canadian waters, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) designated the Maritimes Designatable Unit (DU) as Special Concern. In April 2010, COSEWIC re-assessed Atlantic cod; in this assessment, Atlantic cod in 5Z was included in the Southern DU, which was designated Endangered. A Species at Risk Act (SARA) listing decision for the Atlantic cod Southern DU is pending.

For more information, please refer to section 5.2 of the 4VWX5 Groundfish IFMP .

Indigenous knowledge

DFO aims to incorporate traditional knowledge into fisheries management planning.

Please refer to Section 3.1 of the 4VWX5 Groundfish IFMP  for additional information.

IV. Socio-economic and cultural importance

Combined Canada/US catches averaged 17,200 mt between 1978 and 1993, peaked at 26,463 mt in 1982, and then declined to 1,683 mt in 1995. Catches fluctuated around 3,000 mt until 2004 and subsequently declined again (Figure 4). Cod landings from 2011 – 2015 can be found in Table 3. Catches in 2017 were 526 mt, including 18 mt of discards.

Figure 4: Landings for 5Zjm Atlantic cod by country (DFO 2018).

Figure 4: Landings for 5Zjm Atlantic cod by country (DFO 2018).

Table 3: Cod catches and biomass (thousands mt); Recruits (millions) for 5Z from 2009-2017 (TMGC 2018/01)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 Avg¹ Min¹ Max¹
Canada9 Quota 1.2 1.0 0.9 0.5 0.5 0.5 0.5 0.5 0.6 0.7      
  Catch 1.2 0.8 0.7 0.5 0.4 0.5 0.5 0.4 0.5   5.2 0.4 17.9
  Landed 1.0 0.7 0.7 0.4 0.4 0.4 0.5 0.4 0.5   5.1 0.4 17.8
  Discard 0.2 0.1 <0.1 0.1 <0.1 <0.1 <0.1 <0.1 <0.1   <0.1 <0.1 0.4
USA9 Quota² 0.5 0.3 0.2 0.2 0.1 0.2 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.3      
  Catch² 0.5 0.3 0.2 <0.1 <0.1 0.1 0.1 <0.1 <0.1        
  Landed 0.4 0.4 0.3 0.1 <0.1 <0.1 <0.1 <0.1 <0.1   3.2 <0.1 10.6
  Discard 0.2 0.1 <0.1 <0.1 <0.1 <0.1 <0.1 <0.1 <0.1   <0.1 <0.1 0.3
Total9 Quota 1.7 1.3 1.1 0.7 0.6 0.7 0.7 0.6 0.7 1.0      
  Catch³,4 1.7 1.1 0.9 0.5 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.5 0.5        
  Catch 1.8 1.3 1.0 0.6 0.4 0.6 0.6 0.5 0.5   8.5 0.5 26.5
From VPA "M 0.8" model                          
Adult biomass5 9.4 7.4 6.0 5.0 6.0 7.6 8.1 12.5 13.9 9.5 25.2 5.9 59.7
Age 1 recruits 1.1 1.2 3.2 1.7 0.8 6.0 2.6 0.3     5.6 0.5 24.1
Fishing mortality6 0.17 0.21 0.26 0.14 0.08 0.06 0.06 0.05 0.04   0.33 0.05 0.66
Exploitation rate7 18% 23% 51% 44% 6% 6% 6% 7%     26% 6% 44%
Exploitation rate8 24% 23% 17%11% 32% 11% 5% 1%     23% 1% 46%

²for fishing year from May 1-April 30
³for Canadian calendar year and USA fishing year May 1-April 30
4sum of Canadian landed, Canadian discard, and USA catch (includes discards)
5Jan 1 ages 3+
6ages 4-9
7ages 4-5; M=0.2
8ages 6-8; M=0.8
9unless otherwise noted, all values reported are for calendar year

Please refer to section 4 of the 4VWX5 Groundfish IFMP  for additional details on the socio-economic and cultural importance of the cod fishery.

V. Management issues

The major potential threats to survival and recovery that have been identified for 5Z cod are natural mortality (e.g. predation, disease, unfavorable environmental conditions, etc.), fishing above FREF, discards and bycatch (DFO 2011/034; DFO 2011/036). The effects of large-scale environmental change on 5Z cod productivity have been implicated in declines in the adjacent Gulf of Maine fish stocks (e.g., Pershing et al. 2015).

Cod in 5Z are caught along with haddock, halibut, pollock, flounder, redfish, and other groundfish species in a mixed species fishery. In 2011, the RPA identified that an increase in seal populations may contribute to the high natural mortality for 5Z Atlantic cod, but stated that the degree to which seals contribute to the natural mortality has yet to be quantified. Therefore, it is not known to what extent a reduction in seals would assist in the rebuilding of the stock, although recent grey seal assessments have demonstrated the presence of significant seal populations in 5Z during the winter cod aggregation periods (DFO 2017).

VI. Objectives

There are 5 overarching objectives identified in the 4VWX5 Groundfish IFMP , and these are guided by the principle that the fishery is a common property resource to be managed for the benefit of all Canadians, consistent with conservation objectives, the constitutional protection afforded Aboriginal and treaty rights, and the relative contributions that various uses of the resource make to Canadian society, including socio-economic benefits to communities.

Conservation-based objectives

  1. Productivity: Do not cause unacceptable reduction in productivity so that components can play their role in the functioning of the ecosystem.
  2. Biodiversity: Do not cause unacceptable reduction in biodiversity in order to preserve the structure and natural resilience of the ecosystem.
  3. Habitat: Do not cause unacceptable modification to the habitat in order to safeguard both physical and chemical properties of the ecosystem.

Social, cultural and economic objectives

  1. Cultural and Sustenance: respect Aboriginal and treaty rights to fish.
  2. Prosperity: Create the circumstances for economically prosperous fisheries.

As outlined in the precautionary approach framework, the primary objective of this rebuilding plan is to promote stock growth out of the Critical Zone (e.g., grow the stock beyond the LRP), by ensuring removals from all fishing sources are kept to the lowest possible level until the stock has cleared this zone. Within the Critical Zone, this objective remains the same whether the stock is declining, stable or increasing.

Short-term objectives (3-5 years)

Under current conditions of high natural mortality, it is difficult to set timelines for rebuilding the 5Z Atlantic cod stock. The short-term management objective is to ensure that total fishing mortality from the groundfish fishery does not exceed the FLIM for the Critical Zone.

Mid-term objectives (5-15 years)

In general, when a stock is in the Critical Zone, rebuilding to a level above the LRP should be achieved in a reasonable timeframe (1.5 to 2 generations) with a high degree of probability (greater than 75%). For the 5Z Atlantic cod stock, this equates to approximately 11-15 years; however, given the low productivity and high natural mortality of the 5Z Atlantic cod stock, timelines for rebuilding are difficult to specify.

Long-term objective (15 + years)

The long-term objective for 5Z Atlantic cod is to grow the stock out of the Critical Zone, and maintain the Spawning Stock Biomass in the Healthy Zone (i.e., at or above the USR) for the benefit of all Canadians, including harvesters, industry workers and the coastal communities dependent on the resource for livelihood, and to provide reasonable fishing opportunities during the rebuilding period.

VII. Management measures

The only mitigation measures identified under the 2011 RPA to increase survivorship of 5Z cod are reductions in directed fishing (to the level of FREF) and bycatch mortality. As natural mortality is estimated to be much higher for older fish than fishing mortality, there is no identified mechanism for reducing M.

Catch reductions and controls (groundfish fisheries)

The primary control on fishery removals of 5Z cod is the TAC. All groundfish landings (directed and bycatch) are counted towards the quota, and no discarding of 5Z cod is permitted in groundfish fisheries.

The season for the 3 transboundary stocks on Georges Bank (Georges Bank yellowtail flounder and Eastern Georges Bank cod and haddock) run from January 1 to December 31. The Georges Bank fishery is separated into US and Canadian management regimes. When fishing on Georges Bank, all Canadian vessels are required to hail out prior to departing on a fishing trip, to hail in upon return, and to carry Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) on board. All Canadian Georges Bank landings are monitored at the point of offloading by third-party dockside monitors. These monitors verify the weight and the species of fish offloaded. Detailed catch and effort information for every trip must be recorded in logbooks and submitted to DFO (via a dockside monitoring company). Estimates of discarded Atlantic cod within the haddock fishery on Georges Bank are calculated by comparing the catch on unobserved trips to trips with at-sea observers. The Eastern Georges Bank haddock fishery has an observer coverage rate of 25-100%. Tables 4 and 5 show the actual observer coverage for the 5Zjm haddock mobile gear and longline fisheries from 2015 to 2018.

Table 4: Observer coverage by percent for the NAFO Area 5Zjm haddock directed mobile gear fishery on Georges Bank, 2015-2018. (Observed haddock landings (%) = Observed haddock catch (mt)/Total landings (mt); Observed haddock trips (%) = Observed haddock trips/Total trips)
Year Total landings (mt) Total trips Observed haddock catch (mt) Observed haddock trips Observed haddock landings (%) Observed haddock trips (%)
2015 14325.5 520 10636.4 382 74.2 73.5
2016 11855.2 550 9238.6 437 77.9 79.5
2017 13322.8 479 8740.0 229 65.6 62.4
Average (2015-2018)         68.7 66.3
Table 5: Observer coverage by percent for the NAFO Area 5Zjm Haddock directed fixed gear fishery on Georges Bank, 2015-2018. (Observed haddock landings (%) = Observed haddock catch (mt)/Total landings (mt); Observed haddock trips (%) = Observed haddock trips/Total trips)
Year Total landings (mt) Total trips Observed haddock catch (mt) Observed haddock trips Observed haddock landings (%) Observed haddock trips (%)
2015 281.7 53 74.2 15 26.3 28.3
2016 95.5 37 15.4 9 16.1 24.3
2017 52.9 26 8.5 4 16.2 15.4
Average (2015-2018)         16.6 18.6

Catch reductions and controls (other fisheries)

DFO has developed a Policy for Managing Bycatch. The policy will be implemented through IFMPs over time, according to national and regional priorities and resource availability. This policy has 2 objectives:

Bycatch of groundfish species in other directed fisheries (e.g., cod and cusk in the lobster fishery) can be a management issue if that bycatch could result in significant unaccounted mortality. The IFMPs for those directed fisheries address the approaches to be used in dealing with bycatch. In the RPA, the total estimated discards from non-groundfish fisheries were less than 20 t annually for both the 5Zjm area and the adjacent 4X5Y stock area, from 2002 to 2006, based on extrapolating reports from at-sea observers. However, levels of observer coverage in non-groundfish fisheries were found to be generally low and intermittent. One of the measures recommended in the RPA for promoting recovery was to increase at-sea observer coverage in fisheries where the potential for catching and discarding of cod is high so that mortality from non-groundfish fisheries can be better estimated.

Georges Bank 5Z overlaps with a portion of Lobster Fishing Area (LFA) 41. The LFA 41 lobster fishery is open 12 months of the year. There are 8 licences, which are held by a single corporation and fished with traps from a single vessel. Currently, there is no trap limit and the fishery is managed under a TAC. Since 2012, Atlantic cod has been 1 of the more commonly caught species of bycatch in the fishery, though amounts are very low. Data on bycatch is collected through the At-sea Observer Program. The ratio method used to generate estimates of total bycatch from the observed bycatch has assumed that bycatch will increase in proportion to the lobster landings. Since this is probably not the case, the method likely results in an overestimate of bycatch species (Res Doc 2017/065). The target for observer coverage is 6 trips per year, which equates to approximately 10% of total annual trips. In recent years, the target for observer coverage has been exceeded, with coverage ranging from 12-17% of trips. Average estimated cod bycatch in the whole of the LFA 41 fishing grounds for the period of 2014-2016 is 4,133 kg annually, down from 10,866 kg annually in the 2008-2010 period (SAR 2018/004). The bycatch of cod from that portion of LFA 41 that overlaps with 5Z would be some portion of this. The dramatic decline in bycatch of cod is paralleled by declines in bycatches in the fishery of other species, and it likely results in part from a reduction in the number of active vessels over time and an increased focus on areas of highest lobster catch-per-unit-of-effort. Licence conditions for LFA 41 require that cod bycatch be released in a manner that causes it the least harm. Post-release survival has not been studied.

Gear modification and restrictions

The use of a horizontal separator panel when fishing with mobile gear became mandatory in 1999 if an at-sea observer was not on board the vessel. Since 2009, the separator panel has been mandatory at all times in the Georges Bank (5Z) mobile gear haddock fishery to reduce bycatch of cod.

Closed areas

In addition to quota-based management, DFO regularly uses measures intended to reduce catch of juvenile fish and increase their chances of surviving to maturity and contributing to stock productivity, including both ad hoc and permanent small-fish closures. Seasonal spawning closures are also widely used, and a 7-week seasonal cod spawning closure of the offshore scallop fishery in February and March occurs annually (DFO 2017).

There is also a regulated closure of the groundfish fishery on Georges Bank, which occurs annually from March 1 to May 31 to protect spawning aggregations of cod and haddock. Through licence conditions, this spawning closure has been extended to begin in early February. Originally, the closure date was selected using a protocol incorporating spawning condition from previous years with the goal of closing the fishery when 30% of the cod and haddock are in spawning condition. In 2010, a fixed date at the end of the 5th week of the year was adopted to close the fishery based on maturity data from previous years and consultation with the fishing industry.

Small fish area closures

Small fish area closures may be enacted for specified fleet sectors when the number of undersized fish (species lengths vary) reaches or exceeds 15% of the catch. These closures can be enacted for both cod and haddock in Division 5Z with a minimum fish size for Atlantic cod of 43cm.

For additional information, please refer to Section 5.4.2 of the 4VWX5 Groundfish IFMP .


Monitoring tools in use vary by fleet and include hails, dockside monitoring of landings, at-sea observer coverage, logbooks, and vessel monitoring systems. Please refer to Section 5.1 of the 4VWX5 Groundfish IFMP  for additional details.

Seal predation

In 2011, the RPA identified that an increase in seal populations may contribute to the high natural mortality for 5Z Atlantic cod, but stated that the degree to which seals contribute to natural mortality has yet to be quantified. Therefore, it is not known to what extent management of the seal population would assist in the rebuilding of the stock. In addition to scientific uncertainty, significant logistical and political constraints may limit the feasibility of any management measures to reduce the seal population.

Habitat protection

Please refer to section 5.1 of the 4VWX5 Groundfish IFMP  for further details on Oceans and Ecosystem Management Considerations in the Maritimes Region.

Harvest strategies and tactics

This section presents the current harvest strategies and tactics being used for 5Z Atlantic cod to achieve the objectives outlined below. Table 4 outlines the current harvest strategies and tactics, incorporating the relevant reference points, which are applied to achieve the objectives for the stock. When reference points have not been set for a stock, exploitation rates will be set based on the precautionary approach framework.

Considering that 5Z is included in the US-Canada Transboundary Resource Sharing Understanding, it is recognized that TAC-setting is a collaborative process. As such, the objectives, strategies and reference points described apply explicitly to the management of the stock within Canada. They may also be used to guide Canadian members who will advance positions consistent with these objectives during negotiations at the TMGC. As with any international body, differing legislative frameworks may prevent the perfect implementation of the domestic strategies advanced by 1 country with the goal of maintaining the agreement between the 2 countries.

Table 6: Current Canadian harvest strategies and tactics for 5Z Atlantic cod
Strategies Tactics

Manage fishing mortality in the groundfish fishery by using the following references and risk tolerances:

  • The TAC may be set with a neutral (50%) probability of exceeding the fishing mortality target reference for the Healthy Zone when the spawning stock biomass (SSB) is above the USR, or
  • The TAC may be set with a low (less than 25%) probability of exceeding the fishing mortality limit reference for the Healthy Zone when the SSB is above BMSY/ the USR.
  • The TAC should be set to mitigate declines and, when possible, promote positive change in spawning stock biomass (SSB) over a 3-year period when it is below the USR. So long as this criterion is met, a harvest strategy of FREF is acceptable when the stock is in the Cautious Zone; however, it is required that permitted fishing mortality will decline as the stock progresses lower into the Cautious Zone. The management response will vary depending on location of the stock within the Cautious Zone, whether the stock is increasing or decreasing, whether the trajectory (growth or decline) is projected to continue, and indications of incoming recruitment to the SSB, for example.
  • When the SSB is below the limit reference point (LRP), the harvest strategy is to be results-driven, and to stay below the FLIM for the Critical Zone. Rebuilding to a level above the LRP should be achieved in a reasonable timeframe (1.5 to 2 generations) with a high degree of probability (greater than 75%). The TAC (if appropriate) should be set with a very low (less than 5%) risk of biomass decline, recognizing that this may not always be possible due to the variation in year-class strength.
  • TAC (which may be introduced through fleet quota caps or trip limits)
  • Small fish protocol
  • Gear modifications (e.g., mandatory use of a cod separator panel when fishing with mobile gear in 5Z)
  • Size selectivity through gear restrictions (e.g., mesh and hook size constraints)
  • Bycatch limits when directing for other groundfish
Keep bycatch fishing mortality in the lobster fishery moderate.
  • Mandatory release of cod bycatch
  • Traps fitted with escape vents and biodegradable panels

VIII. Access and allocation

The 5Z cod TAC is fully allocated to fleet sectors according to established percentage shares, which are considered stable at a low level. Please refer to Section 7 of the 4VWX5 Groundfish IFMP .

IX. Shared stewardship

Shared stewardship is achieved through the involvement of stakeholders and rights-holders in advisory committees and regional science advisory processes. Please see Section 2.6 of the 4VWX5 Groundfish IFMP for further details.

X. Compliance

Compliance monitoring involves the deployment of fishery officers to air, sea and land patrols, observer coverage on fishing vessels, the dockside monitoring program (DMP) and remote electronic monitoring (VMS). For details on regional compliance program delivery, current compliance issues and the compliance strategy, see section 8 of the 4VWX5 Groundfish IFMP .

XI. Plan enhancement, evaluation and performance review

Outcomes from the application of this plan will be reviewed periodically through the GOMAC to determine if changes to the plan are warranted. A new TRAC assessment of the 5Z cod stock is scheduled for 2020, and this Rebuilding Plan will be reviewed and revised as needed following that assessment.

A high priority for DFO is to develop a new assessment model for this stock due to concerns about the model over-predicting abundance and because current levels of fishing mortality can no longer be assessed against the reference points. In 2019, TRAC will provide an update of abundance indices and explore new methods for providing advice on this stock for the assessment planned in 2020. If ‘F’ is found to be at a level that impacts rebuilding, further management measures will be needed.

Other sources of mortality for 5Z cod, such as seal predation, are not well understood. In addition, potential impacts of climate change on this stock have not been fully evaluated. As new knowledge is developed, DFO will seek to incorporate this information into the management of this stock.

DFO will also ensure that all significant sources of fishing mortality can be estimated and accounted for. For groundfish fisheries, unreported (and illegal) discards would be the main source of unaccounted fishing mortality, although observer coverage rates in the groundfish fishery on Georges Bank have been high (25-100%) for many years. DFO will review the current strategy used to estimate illegal discards, which could include exploring other forms of catch monitoring, such as electronic video monitoring.

For the lobster fishery in LFA 41, bycatch of Atlantic cod will continue to be collected through the At-sea Observer Program and reviewed annually by the Offshore Lobster and Jonah Crab Advisory Committee. A more appropriate estimator is being developed (using effort) to estimate total bycatch from observed bycatch. An estimate of bycatch mortality would require quantification or reliable estimation of post-release survival. Given that bycatch in the fishery is currently very low, estimates of post-release survival in the fishery are not being developed at this time, nor reference points set. Consideration will be given to the need for additional information and analysis should bycatch amounts appear to become significant.

In other commercial fisheries, work will be done to ensure that estimates of bycatch levels are available for fisheries with the potential to impact 5Z Atlantic cod. Fishing mortality from bycatch in other fisheries can then be incorporated into the management framework for this stock.

A full accounting of 5Z Atlantic cod fishing mortality should also include any catches in Aboriginal fisheries or recreational fisheries that might occur in the future (potentially in conjunction with other fisheries, for example). DFO is considering the implementation of a marine recreational licence for Atlantic Canada, which could improve data collection from recreational groundfish fisheries. DFO is also working with Aboriginal organizations to increase reporting of catches in Food, Social, and Ceremonial Fisheries.

An overview of action items to support the rebuilding of 5Z cod can be found in Table 7.

Table 7: Action items to support rebuilding of 5Z cod
Issue Action Timeline Lead
New assessment approach TRAC to review current assessment approach used and recommend (a) new approach(es). This might involve the use of an index-based approach until a new model can be developed and reviewed.  2019-23 TRAC, DFO Resource Management and TMGC

Commercial fishing

Review Rebuilding Plan following new advice provided by TRAC.

If the stock is not seen to be showing signs of recovery based on the TRAC model or F is found to be at a level that impacts rebuilding, revisit management measures (e.g., revisit existing bycatch rules).
2021 DFO Resource Management and GOMAC
Small fish area closures may be enacted for specified fleet sectors when the number of undersized fish (43 cm) reaches or exceeds 15% of the catch. Ongoing DFO Resource Management and GOMAC  
Maintain cod and haddock spawning area closure on Georges Bank. Ongoing annual closures DFO Resource Management  
Develop estimates of Atlantic cod fishing mortality from non-groundfish fisheries on Georges Bank, including lobster fishing in LFA 41, and incorporate these into the management framework for this stock. 2019-2023 DFO Resource Management and Science  
Recreational fishing Pending a Ministerial decision, the implementation of a marine recreational licence for Atlantic Canada may improve data collection from recreational groundfish fisheries, including cod catches.   DFO Resource Management
The recreational bag limit for groundfish in 5Z is 10 per day in the aggregate and the season is open 11 months of the year (closed in January). Subject to consultations with affected stakeholders, the amount of cod permitted as part of that aggregate could be reduced by variation order and the season shortened.         2019 DFO Resource Management  
Illegal discarding Review the current strategy used to estimate illegal discards of cod in the groundfish industry. 2019-22 DFO Resource Management, Science and C&P

XII. References

Andrushchenko, I., and C.M. Legault, R. Martin, E.N. Brooks, & Y. Wang. 2018. Assessment of Eastern Georges Bank Atlantic Cod 2018. TRAC Res. Doc. 2018/01: 6p.

Brooks, E., and I. Andrushchenko, Y. Wang & L. O’Brien. 2016. Developing an empirical approach for providing catch advice for Eastern Georges Bank Cod. TRAC Red. Doc. 2016/04: 20p.

Claytor R., and L. O’Brien, editors. 2013. Proceedings of the Transboundary Resources Assessment Committee (TRAC): Transboundary Resources Assessment Committee Eastern Georges Bank Cod Benchmark Assessment. TRAC Proceedings 2013/01.

DFO. 2011. Recovery Potential Assessment (RPA) for the Southern Designatable Unit (NAFO Divs. 4X5Yb and 5Zjm) of Atlantic Cod (Gadus morhua). DFO Can. Sci. Advis. Sec. Sci. Advis. Rep. 2011/034.

DFO. 2011. Alternative hypotheses for causes of the elevated natural mortality of cod (Gadus morhua) in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence: the weight of evidence. DFO Can. Sci. Advis. Sec. Sci. Advis. Rep. 2011/036.

Hare JA, Morrison WE, Nelson MW, Stachura MM, Teeters EJ, et al. (2016) A Vulnerability Assessment of Fish and Invertebrates to Climate Change on the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf. PLOS ONE 11(2): e0146756. 

Kohler, A.C., and D.N. Fitzgerald. 1969. Comparison of food of Cod and Haddock in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and on the Nova Scotia Banks.

Langton, R.W, and R.E. Bowman. Food of Fifteen Northwest Atlantic Gadiform Fishes. NOAA Tech. Report. NMFS SSRF – 740.

Link, J.S. and L.P. Garrison. 2002. Trophic ecology of Atlantic Cod Gadus morhua on the Northeast US Continental Shelf. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Series 227: 109-123.

McLaren, I.A. and P. Avendano. 1995. Prey field and diet of larval Cod on Western Bank, Scotian Shelf. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 52: 448-463.
TMGC. 2018. Transboundary Management Guidance Committee Guidance Document 2018/01 .

Date modified: