The Atlantic cod of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland were once a major food source for Europeans and North Americans. France and Portugal began fishing the Grand Banks in the early 1500s, joined by England during the 1600s. Spain, the former Soviet Union, Poland and Canada harvested great quantities of cod with dragnet trawlers during the latter part of the 20th century. In 1992 the northern cod population finally succumbed to decades of overfishing and several years of recruitment failure (poor reproductive success), due to natural climate change in the marine environment. Remnants of this once huge fish population are now found only in the bays of eastern Newfoundland and Labrador.
Fisheries oceanographer Dr. Joe Wroblewski and his graduate students at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John's have been investigating the ecology of these "bay cod." Dr. Wroblewski received his Ph.D. in biological oceanography at the Florida State University, and taught at Dalhousie University before joining the Ocean Sciences Center at Memorial University. He teaches fisheries resource management with the viewpoint that fishers and their knowledge should become a part of the management process.
Fisheries oceanography is the study of the distribution and abundance of a living marine resource, focusing on how the life cycle of a commercial species is shaped by the physical and biological characteristics of the ocean. Before Dr. Joe Wroblewski's research, there was little known about Atlantic cod inhabiting Labrador coastal waters, even though a fishery had existed there for centuries.
Dr. Wroblewski's team, collaborating with scientists from Dalhousie university and the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), discovered a local population of cod in Gilbert Bay, Labrador, that was genetically distinguishable from coastal cod of Newfoundland. To protect this relatively small "bay stock" from the fate of Grand Banks cod stocks, the residents of the communities of Port Hope Simpson and Williams Harbour asked the DFO to consider Gilbert bay for it's Marine Protected Areas program.
Under Canada's Oceans Act, unique habitats in the coastal zone can be given special attention to achieve conservation objectives. A Marine Protected Area has its own management plan, developed jointly by the resource users and the DFO. Labradorians have used the marine resources of Gilbert Bay for sustenance, recreation and commerce for many years. Through careful stewardship, the people most dependent on a resource can ensure it's preservation for many generations.
There are two other federal programs that establish protected areas for the conservation of marine life. Under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, Environment Canada protect the islands used by nesting seabirds. Parks Canada can designate larger regions of the coast as National Marine Conservation Areas. Protecting marine ecosystems offers benefits beyond conservation of fishery resources. Human Health, community health and ecosystem health are strongly linked. "research helps us understand our world better, so we can preserve what we have been given, and pass this unspoiled to our children," says Dr. Wroblewski. There are still many great discoveries about marine life yet to be made, such as the unique population of cod in Gilbert Bay.
Dr. Joe Wroblewski
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