Promoting the conservation of Atlantic cod through the improvement and implementation of low-impact fishing gears (cod pots) in Newfoundland and Labrador.
As Atlantic cod populations have started to recover in the North Atlantic, questions have been raised about the re-opening of the commercial cod fishery, and how best to harvest this previously depleted species. In my research project, I use an underwater cameras to assess cod pots, a stationary baited trap that has the potential to catch cod in Newfoundland (NL) with lower impact on non-target species and marine ecosystems than traditional gears. My research goals are twofold: First, to assess the number and identity of species that interact with the pots. Second, to study the efficiency of cod pots, and identify bottlenecks in the capture process that reduce capture efficiency - thereby making these lower-impact gears less desirable to fishers. I conducted this work with the secondary objective of identifying modifications that could increase both efficiency and selectivity of pots, to increase the likelihood of them displacing more-impactful gears in a reopened fishery. I found that pots were highly selective, and almost exclusively attracted their target species. I observed that, while the pots attracted large numbers of cod, that relatively few attempted to enter the gear, and of those that made attempts to enter only 22% succeeded. Furthermore, nearly 25% of cod in pots were able to escape. Most cod approached and entered pots by swimming against the current. Taken together, these findings bear implications for pot design and use, and demonstrate that substantial improvements could be gained in pot performance.
Following video analysis, I then compared the data obtained from the underwater videos with actual landed catch data from cod fishermen on Fogo Island, NL, and used this information to inform the design of new, and modified cod pots. These modified cod pots were constructed throughout June and July 2016, and were tested in the Fogo Island commercial cod fishery during August and September 2016. Analysis of the collected catch data is in-progress, however preliminary results suggest that both our modified and novel cod pot designs had an improved catch efficiency for cod, while continuing to minimize their low ecological impacts. If an effective and efficient cod pot design can be determined, its implementation in an expanding cod fishery could result in a reduced reliance on destructive fishing gears, such as gillnets, in NL and abroad.