Northern Cod | WWF-Canada
	© Paul Nicklen/National Geographic Stock / WWF-Canada

Northern Cod

For hundreds of years, the waters around Newfoundland and Labrador were thick with cod. Canada’s cod stocks were legendary around the world, and cod was a mainstay of the local economy.


But global demand led to unsustainable harvesting, provoking an ecological and economic disaster. In the late 1980s, cod stocks around Newfoundland plummeted as a result of historical overfishing and changing environmental conditions. In July 1992, the federal government declared a moratorium on fishing northern cod, throwing an estimated 30,000 people out of work. Many devastated communities feared that cod had been pushed to the brink of extinction as stocks continued to decline even after fishing was shut down.

For more than two decades, the future of this once-abundant cod stock was grim. But recently, scientists have seen a slow and steady recovery trend in some areas.

Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) aquaculture, Newfoundland, Canada
© Gilbert Van Ryckevorsel / WWF-Canada

What WWF-Canada is doing

In 2015, to enhance rebuilding efforts, WWF-Canada launched a Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) in Atlantic Canada with the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW-Unifor). 

The FIP is focused on bringing the northern cod stock, which is found off the northeast coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, back to a healthy level. The stock, known by its technical designation 2J3KL, has been under a fishing moratorium since 1992 but small-scale stewardship and recreational fisheries have been operating since 2006.


The FIP brings together fish harvesters, seafood buyers and governments in a multi-step process geared toward reaching the sustainability benchmark set by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Improving fishing practices and management will benefit local communities and ensure continued sustainability once the stock has grown to support a full commercial fishery.


WWF-Canada and its partner, Icewater Seafoods Inc., completed an earlier FIP on a smaller cod stock known as 3Ps, to ensure that cod fishery would be managed responsibly. In March 2016, southern Newfoundland 3Ps cod became the first Canadian Atlantic cod fishery to achieve MSC certification.