Canada Lists Atlantic Cod as Endangered

WHITEHORSE, Yukon, Canada, May 2, 2003 (ENS) – The abundant Atlantic cod that once supported a thriving Canadian industry is now officially listed as endangered. Two populations of Atlantic cod were designated as endangered and threatened in Canada following assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, a government body that met in Whitehorse this week. The Committee has added 16 species to the list of species at risk since it last met in November 20002.

Two emergency listings made in October 2002 were confirmed today by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The Cultus Lake and Sakinaw Lake populations of sockeye salmon in British Columbia are both listed as endangered.

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Racks of cod drying, like these on Quebec's Gaspe Peninsula, will now seldom be seen. (Photo courtesy Manoir de Perce)
There are now 431 species on the Species at Risk List in various risk categories - 153 that are endangered, 102 that are threatened, and 143 species of special concern,said today in a statement.

In addition, 21 species are extirpated, that is they are no longer found in Canada, and 12 are extinct. Another 29 species are considered data deficient,

The Newfoundland and Labrador population of Atlantic cod was designated as endangered. Over the last 30 years, there has been a 97 percent decline in cod off the northeast coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the species has essentially disappeared from offshore portions of its range.

"Fishing has been the main threat to the cod," COSEWIC said, differing from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans which said this week that predation by seals could be the cause of the cod's disappearance.

The Newfoundland and Labrador commercial and recreational cod fisheries were closed Monday by government order.

Festa-Bianchet

COSEWIC Chairman Dr. Marco Festa-Bianchet is a professor of forest biology at the University of Sherbrooke, Quebec (Photo courtesy University of Sherbrooke)
The Laurentian North population of Atlantic cod, which extends from the northern Gulf of the St-Lawrence to Newfoundland’s south coast, was assessed as threatened by COSEWIC. Cod remain abundant in the eastern part of the region (southern coast of Newfoundland), but have declined substantially in the northern Gulf, where the fishery is now also closed.

The Maritimes population of Atlantic cod remains in the category of special concern.

Two species were downlisted to a lower category of risk. The Western North Atlantic population of the humpback whale, previously listed in the special concern category, was removed from the list, due in part to the success of recovery efforts, COSEWIC said.

Fewer humpback whales are becoming entangled in fishing nets, and people have become more proficient at untangling those that are caught. There are now about 10,000 humpback whales in the Western North Atlantic, according to COSEWIC.

The Northwest Atlantic population of the harbor porpoise was also downlisted, from threatened, to special concern. COSEWIC said that because of reduced fishing activities in the Atlantic and measures to reduce bycatch in the Bay of Fundy, fewer porpoises are killed accidentally. But concerns remain about potential bycatch levels, and further monitoring is required.

Environment Minister David Anderson said today, “It is troubling whenever the status of any species is moved to a more serious category. However, I am pleased to see the removal of a species from the COSEWIC list and the downlisting of another species to a lower category of risk."

"The government of Canada will continue to take action to protect species at risk and their habitats through stewardship and incentive programs with a variety of partners and cooperative efforts with provinces and territories," Anderson said.

Three species of plants found in British Columbia’s Garry oak ecosystems were added to the list of endangered species. The Howell’s Triteleia, the Coastal Scouler’s Catchfly and the Kellogg’s Rush were all found to be endangered.

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Garry oaks, coastal British Columbia (Photo credit unknown)
Garry oak ecosystems are inhabited by more plant species than any other terrestrial ecosystem in coastal British Columbia. But habitat conversion of the ecosystems to agricultural and urban uses has occurred at an accelerating rate, over the past 20 years, and today less than five percent of the original Garry oak habitat remains. COSEWIC calls British Columbia’s Garry oak ecosystems "one of the most endangered ecosystems in Canada."

The Western population of wolverine, found in five provinces and three territories, including the area around Whitehorse, remained in the special concern category after being reassessed. The eastern population remains endangered, and may no longer exist, COSEWIC said.

The Committee assessed 40 species during its five day meeting. Twenty-four species were assessed for the first time, and 19 of them were added to the COSEWIC list of Species at Risk.

The Committee also spent two days meeting with representatives of Wildlife Management Boards from across Canada during its stay in Whitehorse.

"This was an important first step in launching a new partnership with Boards established under land claim settlements, who play a major role in wildlife conservation," said COSEWIC chair Dr. Marco Festa-Bianchet. "They welcomed us to the North enthusiastically, and helped us gain a better appreciation of the broad range of their activities."

COSEWIC is an independent committee of wildlife experts that uses the best information available to determine the level of risk of extinction for Canada's wildlife species. Since the committee was formed in 1977, it has completed 612 species assessments.

The Committee is composed of government and non-government members, members from academic institutions, and two members who facilitate the inclusion of Aboriginal traditional knowledge.

Environment Minister Anderson said the federal Species at Risk Act, which received royal assent in December 2002 and is expected to be proclaimed within the next year, "will provide another tool for protecting species at risk and conserving biodiversity throughout Canada."