Letter to Hon. Keith Ashfield, federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans from Fred Winsor

Hon. Keith Ashfield                                                                                                July 18, 2011

Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

House of Commons

Ottawa, Ontario


Dear Minister:

            We write regarding the recovery of Canada's historic fish stocks on the Southern Grand Bank in the North-west Atlantic and the identification and protection of Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems in the same region.  This area has been fished for centuries by Canadian, Newfoundland, and foreign fishing fleets. However with the introduction of significant and widespread advances in fishing and fish finding technologies over the past six decades, there has been significant over-fishing in this region to the point that historic groundfish stocks such as cod, haddock, and white hake have not been able to recover to  historic levels.

            Similarly ocean habitat research conducted over the past few years by your department and others indicate major concentrations of cold water corals and high nutrient and biodiversity levels  present in the 300 - 800 metre range along the South-west slope of the Grand Bank running north-west to the Haddock and Halibut Channels.  

            The original Grand Bank Southwest Slope Marine Protected Area was established in 2007 with the assistance of the World Wildlife Fund as a five year agreement between Canada and the North-west Atlantic Fisheries Organization(NAFO). At the time the area set out commenced at a water depth of  800 metres running down to a depth of  2000 metres.  Further research on the ecosystems of the south-west Slope of the Grand Bank and in the area of the Haddock and Halibut Channels reveal key Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems(VMEs) which contain the highest concentrations of cold water corals in that region are just outside the closed area in ocean depths ranging from 300 - 800 metres.  In addition to being VMEs some of these areas have been identified as spawning grounds for commercial groundfish species. Enclosed is a coloured map with the areas in question indicated in red.

            Similarly, research completed by V.M. Hodder and Wilfred Templeman in the 1950s and 1960s on  commercial groundfish species in that region indicate significant spawning grounds for major commercial species a few kilometers to the north-east  of the existing closed area in depths ranging from 90 - 200 metres.  Enclosed is a map indicating those areas.  According to the work completed by Hodder and Templeman, commercial groundfish species such as cod and haddock remain in these areas during winter months and occasionally year round to spawn because the water near the ocean floor is warmer than can be found on the shallower areas of the Grand Bank from November to June. 

            Commercial fish landings of haddock in that region collapsed in the early 1960s and despite several attempts by the species to recover under the present management program in the early 1980s and again in 2004-5, recovery has not occurred. Similarly, cod which was severely overfished for several decades finally collapsed in the 1990s. Again there have been signs of slight recovery over the past two decades but it appears that other more sustainable management strategies need to be employed if these once major commercial fisheries resources are to have any opportunity to rebuild.


            In that context we would encourage you and officials in your department to consider other proven recovery management options which will protect Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems in the area and provide the capacity for once abundant historic commercial ground-fish stocks to recover.  We propose that NAFO and Canada reconsider the  boundary for the existing marine protected area(MPA)  and expand the MPA to foster protection, rebuilding, and recovery  of the Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems, and the ocean web and commercial fish stocks which they support. To achieve that goal we recommend that the zone be  re-adjusted from the existing 800 metre contour line to the 90 metre contour line.  This would provide stability and protection for the extensive cold water corals beds and the spawning overwintering areas for groundfish that frequent the area. It would provide the opportunity for the abundant and biodiverse  ecosystems which comprise the ocean food web in that area to grow and recover. Commercial groundfish species in the area would have the opportunity for long term recovery and the upwelling spillover effect  of this recovery would be felt in other sections of the Grand Bank both inside and outside the 200 mile economic zone.





Fred Winsor( PhD. North-west Atlantic fisheries history)

Conservation Chair

Atlantic Chapter

Sierra Club Canada 

St. John's, Newfoundland

A1E 1N9








Edinger, E. Krista Baker, Rodolphe Devillers, Vonda Wareham, Coldwater Corals off Newfoundland and Labrador: Distribution and Fisheries Impacts, WWF-Canada; Toronto, Canada; 2007


Hodder, V.M. “Assessments of the Effects of fishing and of the increases in the mesh size of trawls on the major commercial fisheries of the Newfoundland area ICNAF sub-area 3,”Msc. Thesis, Memorial University St. John's, Newfoundland, 1962.


Hodder, V.M. “The possible effects of temperature on fecundity of Grand Bank haddock,”ICNAF Special Publication  No. 6, Rome, Italy, 1964.


Hodder, V.M.  R. Chaulk and L.N. Cluett  Length and Age composition of Haddock Landings from the Newfoundland Area  by Canadian Trawlers 1953-64,  Fisheries Research Board of Canada, Technical Report No. 170, Biological Station, Fisheries Research Board of Canada, St. John's, Newfoundland, 1970.


Templeman, Wilfred and V.M. Hodder “Distribution of haddock on the Grand Bank in relation to season, depth and temperature,”Special Publication No. 6, International Commission for the North-west Atlantic Fisheries Environmental Symposium, No. A-8, Rome, Italy; 1964.


Templeman, Wilfred and V.M. Hodder “Distribution of haddock on St. Pierre Bank(ICNAF division 3Ps) by season, depth and temperature,”Special Publication No. 6, International Commission for the North-west Atlantic Fisheries Environmental Symposium, No. A-9, Rome, Italy; 1964.



 Get the latest news and action alerts from Sierra Club Atlantic!


The Sandpiper - Connect With Us!

 <div data-configid="2972198/2443051" style="width: 50px; height: 32px;" class="issuuembed"></div><script type="text/javascript" src="//e.issuu.com/embed.js" async="true"></script>

User login