Species Profile

Atlantic Cod Arctic Lakes population

Scientific Name: Gadus morhua
Taxonomy Group: Fishes
Range: Nunavut
Last COSEWIC Assessment: April 2010
Last COSEWIC Designation: Special Concern
SARA Status: No schedule, No Status

Individuals of this species may be protected under Schedule 1 under another name; for more information see Schedule 1, the A-Z Species List, or if applicable, the Related Species table below.


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Quick Links: | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Other Protection or Status | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Atlantic Cod

Description

The Atlantic Cod (Gadus morhua) is a member of the family Gadidae and has the following characteristics: Classic, streamlined shape; three dorsal fins, two anal fins, a single chin barbel and a very distinct lateral line; colour is brown to green, with spots on the lateral and dorsal surface; Arctic Lakes populations are dominated by smaller individuals, with few large individuals; cod in the ocean may grow to lengths exceeding 2 meters, while maximum length within the Arctic Lakes populations appears to be slightly less than 1.5 meters; and maximum length of 1.57 meters (Ogac Lake, Nunavut).

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Distribution and Population

Marine populations of Atlantic Cod are the original source of the Arctic Lakes populations; they consist of three separate populations. Atlantic Cod in the arctic lakes inhabit three saltwater, coastal lakes on southeastern Baffin Island; Lakes Ogac, Qasigialiminiq and Tariujarusiq.

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Habitat

Atlantic Cod are generally found in waters ranging from 2 to 11 degrees Celsius, but due to their ability to produce plasma antifreeze proteins, they are able to withstand temperatures as low as -1.5 degrees Celsius without ice crystals forming in the blood. The arctic lakes populations are physically separated from the ocean and have become genetically distinct from their marine cousins, and from each other. Seawater enters these lakes only during the highest summer tides. These lakes are considered meromictic, or stratified, and have a freshwater surface layer of water a few metres deep, with a larger saltwater layer beneath it. The cod live only in the saltwater layer, except for very short trips into the freshwater layer.

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Biology

Spawning involves complex behaviours for mate selection, and occurs in water depths up to 30 meters. The number of eggs ranges from 300,000 to several million for larger females. Due to this high fecundity, Atlantic Cod do not build nests or provide parental care and the eggs are simply broadcast over the bottom. The Arctic Lakes populations are dominated by the smaller-sized Cod, with a few large individuals that achieve their large size through cannibalism.

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Threats

While angling pressure may become a larger concern in the future, the remoteness of these lakes currently offers protection from intensive fishing. However, it is the small number of locations available for these populations, and the small area of these lakes that are the main threats to this population. The combined surface area of the three lakes is less than 20 square kilometers, suggesting this small area and restricted distribution may be especially sensitive to disturbance. The lakes themselves are unique habitats and may be easily disturbed. No other fish occur in these lakes and the cod rely on high tides to bring in food. Changing sea levels and the resultant tide levels would likely affect these populations of Atlantic Cod. Immigration of other Atlantic Cod populations is highly unlikely, due to the isolated nature of these lakes as well as the shallow and temporary inlet/outlets.

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Protection

Federal Protection

In Canada, this species is afforded protection under the Fisheries Act and is currently under consideration for listing as Special Concern under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available online at www.aquaticspeciesatrisk.ca or on the SARA Registry at SaraRegistry.gc.ca.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Other Protection or Status

The cod stocks inhabiting the offshore waters inside Canada’s 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone are managed by Canada and cod outside the 200 mile limit are managed with the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO). In most regions, quotas as well as seasonal and gear restrictions have been incorporated into the management framework (COSEWIC, 2010).

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

5 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Atlantic Cod Gadus morhua in Canada (2010)

    Atlantic Cod inhabit all waters overlying the continental shelves of the Northwest and the Northeast Atlantic Ocean. On a global scale, the historical distribution of cod probably differs relatively little from that of its present distribution. In Canada, Atlantic Cod are found contiguously along the east coast from Georges Bank and the Bay of Fundy in the south, northward along the Scotian Shelf, throughout the Gulf of St. Lawrence, around the island of Newfoundland, and finally along the eastern shores of Labrador and Baffin Island, Nunavut. There are also three landlocked populations of Atlantic Cod on Baffin Island. Outside Canadian waters in the Northwest Atlantic, cod can be found on the northeast and southeast tips of Grand Bank and on Flemish Cap, lying immediately northeast of Grand Bank, and in the waters east of Baffin Island extending to western Greenland.

COSEWIC Assessments

  • COSEWIC Assessment Summary and Status Report: Atlantic Cod - Laurentian North, Laurentian South, Newfoundland and Labrador, Southern and Arctic Lakes populations (2010)

    Assessment Summary – April 2010 Common name Atlantic Cod - Laurentian North population Scientific name Gadus morhua Status Endangered Reason for designation Populations in this designatable unit (DU) have declined 76-89% in the past 3 generations. The main cause of the decline in abundance was overfishing and there is no indication of recovery. This DU includes the cod management units 3Ps and 3Pn4RS. A limit reference point (LRP) has been estimated for the 3Pn4RS management unit. The abundance for this management unit has been relatively stable over the past decade, but it is well below the LRP, and directed fisheries continue. Abundance in southern Newfoundland (3Ps) is declining. The assessment indicates that this management unit is at the LRP, and directed fisheries continue. Occurrence Atlantic Ocean Status history The species was considered a single unit and designated Special Concern in April 1998. When the species was split into separate populations in May 2003, the Laurentian North population was designated Threatened. Status re-examined and designated Endangered in April 2010. Assessment Summary – April 2010 Common name Atlantic Cod - Laurentian South population Scientific name Gadus morhua Status Endangered Reason for designation Populations in this designatable unit (DU) have declined by 90% in the past 3 generations. The main cause of the rapid decline in abundance during the early 1990s was overfishing. Commercial fisheries were curtailed in 1993 and the abundance stabilized for a number of years. However, increased natural mortality and continued small catches have caused the abundance to decline again. Quantitative analysis of population demographic parameters indicate the population will continue to decline in the absence of fishing if the current elevated level of natural mortality persists. This DU includes the cod management units 4TVn (November – April), 4Vn (May – October) and 4VsW. A limit reference point (LRP) has been estimated for the 4TVn management unit and the current status is assessed to be well below the LRP. An LRP has not been estimated for the 4VsW management unit; however, it is considered to be at a critically low level. Occurrence Atlantic Ocean Status history The species was considered a single unit and designated Special Concern in April 1998. When the species was split into separate populations in May 2003, the Maritimes population was designated Special Concern. When the Maritimes population was further split into two populations (Laurentian South population and Southern population) in April 2010, the Laurentian South population was designated Endangered, and the original Maritimes population was de-activated. Assessment Summary – April 2010 Common name Atlantic Cod - Newfoundland and Labrador population Scientific name Gadus morhua Status Endangered Reason for designation This designatable unit (DU) includes the cod management units 2GH, 2J3KL and 3NO, located in the inshore and offshore waters of Labrador and eastern Newfoundland, and the Grand Banks. Cod in this area have declined 97-99% in the past 3 generations and more than 99% since the 1960s. The area of occupancy declined considerably as the stock collapsed in the early 1990s. The main cause of the decline in abundance was overfishing, and there has been a large reduction in the fishing rate since 1992. However, the population has remained at a very low level with little sign of substantive recovery. The most recent surveys indicate an increase in abundance over the past 3 years; however, this change in abundance is very small compared to the measured decline over the past 3 generations. The extremely low level of abundance and contracted spatial distribution makes the population vulnerable to catastrophic events, such as abnormal oceanographic conditions. Threats from fishing, predation, and ecosystem changes persist. There is no limit reference point (LRP) for the 2J3KL management unit but the population in this area is considered to be well below any reasonable LRP value. The offshore 2J3KL fishery is under moratorium and there is an inshore stewardship fishery with no formal total allowable catch (TAC). The fishery in the 3NO management unit is also under moratorium. There is an LRP for this management unit and the population is well below this value. Occurrence Atlantic Ocean Status history The species was considered a single unit and designated Special Concern in April 1998. When the species was split into separate populations in May 2003, the Newfoundland and Labrador population was designated Endangered. Status re-examined and confirmed in April 2010. Assessment Summary – April 2010 Common name Atlantic Cod - Southern population Scientific name Gadus morhua Status Endangered Reason for designation Populations in this designatable unit (DU) have declined by 64% in the past 3 generations and the decline is continuous. Commercial fishing is ongoing and is an important contributor to the decline. As well, there is evidence of an unexplained increase in natural mortality in the 4X portion of the DU. Rescue from the US population is unlikely given the low abundance of the species in that area. This DU includes the cod management units 4X5Y and 5Zjm. There is a directed fishery for the species in the 4X5Y area, and although there is no limit reference point (LRP), recent fishery management advice indicates that this management unit is at a critically low level. There is also a directed fishery in the 5Zjm management unit and this fishery is co-managed with the United States. Occurrence Atlantic Ocean Status history The species was considered a single unit and designated Special Concern in April 1998. When the species was split into separate populations in May 2003, the Maritimes population was designated Special Concern. When the Maritimes population was further split into two populations (Laurentian South population and Southern population) in April 2010, the Southern population was designated Endangered, and the original Maritimes population was de-activated. Assessment Summary – April 2010 Common name Atlantic Cod - Arctic Lakes population Scientific name Gadus morhua Status Special Concern Reason for designation This designatable unit (DU) exists in 3 isolated lakes on Baffin Island, Nunavut. The combined surface area of the 3 lakes is less than 20 km2. Rescue from other DUs is not possible. One of the lakes, Ogac Lake, is accessible for fishing and large numbers of the species may be removed from the lake if fishing increases. Occurrence NU Status history The species was considered a single unit and designated Special Concern in April 1998. When the species was split into separate populations in May 2003, the Arctic population was designated Special Concern. When the Arctic population was further split into two populations (Arctic Lakes population and Arctic Marine population) in April 2010, the Arctic Lakes population was designated Special Concern, and the original Arctic population was de-activated. Assessment Summary – April 2010 Common name Atlantic Cod - Arctic Marine population Scientific name Gadus morhua Status Data Deficient Reason for designation Information to establish any COSEWIC status category with assurance is not available. Data on distribution, abundance, habitat, and changes over time are insufficient. Occurrence Arctic Ocean, Atlantic Ocean Status history The species was considered a single unit and designated Special Concern in April 1998. When the species was split into separate populations in May 2003, the Arctic population was designated Special Concern. When the Arctic population was further split into two populations (Arctic Lakes population and Arctic Marine population) in April 2010, the Arctic Marine population was designated Data Deficient, and the original Arctic population was de-activated.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Atlantic Cod, Arctic Lakes population (2010)

    This designatable unit (DU) exists in 3 isolated lakes on Baffin Island, Nunavut.  The combined surface area of the 3 lakes is less than 20 km2.  Rescue from other DUs is not possible.  One of the lakes, Ogac Lake, is accessible for fishing and large numbers of the species may be removed from the lake if fishing increases.   

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2010 (2010)

    Under Canada’s Species At Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. During the past year, COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings and reviewed the status of 79 wildlife species (species, subspecies, populations). During the meeting of November 2009, COSEWIC assessed or reviewed the classification of the status of 28 wildlife species. COSEWIC assessed or reviewed the classification of an additional 51 wildlife species (species, subspecies and populations) during their April 2010 meeting. For species already found on Schedule 1 of SARA, the classification of 32 species was reviewed by COSEWIC and the status of the wildlife species was confirmed to be in the same category (extirpated - no longer found in the wild in Canada but occurring elsewhere, endangered, threatened or of special concern). The wildlife species assessment results for the 2009-2010 reporting period include the following: Extirpated: 6 Endangered: 39 Threatened: 16 Special Concern: 17 Data Deficient: 1 This report transmits to the Minister the status of 46 species newly classified as extirpated, endangered, threatened or of special concern, fulfilling COSEWIC’s obligations under SARA Section 24 and 25. A full detailed summary of the assessment for each species and the reason for the designation can be found in Appendix I of the attached report. Since its inception, COSEWIC has assessed 602 wildlife species in various risk categories, including 262 Endangered, 151 Threatened, 166 Special Concern and 23 Extirpated. In addition, 13 wildlife species have been assessed as Extinct. Also, to date, 46 wildlife species have been identified by COSEWIC as Data Deficient and 166 wildlife species were assessed as Not at Risk. This year has been a particularly productive year for COSEWIC’s Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge (ATK) Subcommittee. In April 2010 COSEWIC approved the Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Process and Protocol Guidelines, providing clear and agreed principles for the gathering of Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge to carry out COSEWIC functions as required under Section 15(2) of SARA (See Appendix III of the attached report). We are grateful for the rich and enthusiastic contribution made by community elders and experts in helping the ATK Subcommittee prepare the ATK protocols.

Consultation Documents