Reviews of the Report*: Status of Atlantic Cod, Gadus morhua, in Canada

*Bell, K.N.I.1 1995. Status of Atlantic Cod, Gadus morhua, in Canada. Report to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Canadian Wildlife Service, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0H3.
1 JLB Smith Inst. Ichthyol, p/b1015 Grahamstown 6140 South Africa, & Biology, Memorial U., St. John's, NF, Canada, A1B 3X9.

Note A:
The reviewers were chosen by COSEWIC, not the author. (Just as the author was approached for the Report by COSEWIC, and not vice versa.)

Note B:
The only noteworthy difference among the reviewers was whether COSEWIC should:

[a] designate on a precautionary basis, or
[b] wait for even more confirmatory, or even wait for definitive, evidence of independence of the population units.

Option [a] in fact was required by COSEWIC's published procedures*. These require independent consideration of populations or even putative populations until there is evidence that they are not independent. (*The decision tree is even presented graphically, which shows that this was clearly an important philosophical point until Cod came to COSEWIC. There are many examples of COSEWIC having followed this, so there's no defence for contrary treatment of Cod.)

The risky, conservation-hostile, non-precautionary, implication of option [b] is that any agency with a demonstrated distaste for an at-risk designation can prevent such a designation by failing to fund the studies that could determine the true biology. DFO was such an agency in this case.

COSEWIC or any such agency needs (but COSEWIC does not have) a forum or procedure to properly resolve differences on a scientific, rational, and objective basis, and needs to (COSEWIC doesn't) document, record, and minute all proceedings so that history will know how a particular designation was reached.

Note C:
The second-round comments (it should be unusual that a second round even happened, given the positive first-round comments) were based on a copy that COSEWIC had drastically altered without advising the author, including massive cuts, garbled figure references, typos, and even changes of meaning e.g.:

" there are few indications of improvement" TO "there are indications of improvement";
" There is no doubt that overfishing has occurred" TO "There is no doubt that to come [sic] extent overfishing has occurred";
" The existence of biologically meaningful stocks must be accepted by COSEWIC" TO "The existence of biologically meaningful stocks may thus be accepted by COSEWIC";
" If a single designation is insisted on, it must be the same that would apply to the most at-risk stock/population/component" TO (deleted entirely) ...

Those unethical "edits" were summarised in my letter to all COSEWIC members.

First round of Peer-reviews of Cod status report: 1996

[W.B. Scott, Sept. 25, 1996: Reviewer 1]

Dear Bob:

Enclosed are comments on K.N.I.Bell's manuscript entitled "Status of the Atlantic Cod, Gadus morhua in Canada".

After our phone conversation I asked Dr. Ed Trippel, Atlantic Biological Station, DFO, here in St. Andrews, if he would have time to go over the manuscript. He has done so and his comments are enclosed. Ed says copies of the publications he mentioned can be made available to the author if desired.

Overall, I believe the author has written an unusually well rounded account of a very complex and controversial calamity (alliteration not intentional). He should be commended for doing a very difficult piece of work.

Ed's comments are specific and do not need elaboration by me. The following is up to you and the author, of course, but it would seem desirable not to specify that a particular individual was uncooperative and would not supply requested information (re: [name deleted]); airing this is counter-productive.

I commend the author for his discussion of the political involvement in the fishery (e.g. John Crosby & Benson, 1995). The question of political decision-making deserves more airing than it has received. It certainly raises questions about the political control of scientific information. I believe, of course, that the demise of the Fisheries Research Board was a tragic mistake in that it (FRB) provided a buffer or screen between politicians and scientists. It also ensured better and more open communication between scientists and the industry since the scientists were not politically controlled or motivated and thus were trusted by fishermen. Therefore, I believe Bell's comments in the section "Political input to management decisions (Canada)" is an important contribution to the whole discussion. Canada is in need of better science reporting in any case.

I have made a few comments on the manuscript itself - some word repetition on p. 19 for example.

I have made many notes when going over the manuscript but Ed's comments cover all mine and more. Tell Bell I was very impressed with the manuscript.



Senior Scientist

[Ed Trippel, Sept. 25, 1996: Reviewer 1b (via WB Scott]

(Ed didn't write a covering letter, but made a list of useful detailed comments, most of which were incorporated. He was very helpful and responded quickly to a request for the articles (including his work) that he had mentioned. )

[J.S. Nelson, Sept. 09, 1996: Reviewer 2]

Dear Bob:

In order to provide comments within the requested time I have quickly read the manuscript before university duties increase.

This is a very valuable paper that should be published as soon as possible. The paper is valuable not just for the material on the status of the Atlantic Cod but for the analysis of management of a dominant species and the shortcomings that can exist. The sections are valuable that do not relate directly to status determination (e.g., the discussion of what went wrong in setting quotas[)?] and in faults within biological investigations (e.g. p 14 in otolith reading). These sections provide very valuable insights to understanding [the] whole process. However, if some reduction is needed for publication perhaps it could occur in pages 5-13 (I thought the information on p 15 should be given intact).

I have placed a few editorial suggestions on the manuscript (e.g. p iii, 1, 7, 12, 25, 40). It was a pleasure to read this paper and I look forward to seeing it published. I agree with the Status recommendation.

Yours sincerely

J.S. Nelson


Second round of Peer-reviews of Cod status report: 1998 [based on version that Cosewic altered without author's permission]

J.S. Nelson, March 10, 1998:

Atlantic Cod - K.N.I. Bell

This is a very thoughtful report and again superbly done. It gives a thorough analysis and gives much diversity of ideas.

Some typographical problems* do distract from the report. They include the following:

editorial comments. Starting on P1 (and worst on P1) there is a surprising number of problems (e.g. on page 1 an inomplete sentences (e.g. line 5 ... which led-?) runtogethersentences (e.g., yearclato?, althoughwork, insome), spelling erros, awkward wording (e.g. in last line I suggest change wording from "though if there is" to "though there may be").

p4, line 6, and lower down could also add Scott and Scott, 1988. (in addtion to the earlier edition).

Conclusions: It is particularly difficult with Atlantic cod to decide whether or not the evidence of economic collapse suggests biological collapse. I would like to know if biological studies can give convincing evidence that the populations are relatively independent of one another - e.g., that populations could variously become extirpated. Without this I cannot give a firm conclusion. The statements on p 52 are fundamental but I'm not certain where this leaves me regarding a COSEWIC recommendation. There seems to be no information presented that the species in Canada is Endangered. However, I agree with the author in the end that we should be providing status reports on the various stocks.

J.S. Nelson

[* and handwritten below the text: "PS I just received the letter** of 9 March re the typos! I'll send this off now so as not to delay further. Joe."     **The letter mentioned in Prof. Nelson's PS was a note sent by COSEWIC at my insistence, to explain that the typos and garbled prose were generated by COSEWIC's unauthorised alteration of my text. COSEWIC's letter understated the extent of the alterations. ]

Alex E. Peden, March 10, 1998:

Dear Bob:

Re: review for "Status of Atlantic Cod, Gadus morhua, in Canada" by K.N.I. Bell

This status report is extremely thorough and one of the most comprehensive status reports that I have had to review. Though I have read the entire report, I will confine my comments to the crux of the issue for COSEWIC, and leave fishery data per se, to those more recently conversant with catch statistic data. Recent receipt of a list of typographical erros in the mail indicates editing of the report is well in hand*.

As to whether Atlantic Cod are in danger at the species level, the species clearly is not endangered. However the author's designations based on fishing areas clearly shows level of vulnerability worthy of being monitored by COSEWIC.

In respect to the extensive summary on a stock by stock basis, lack of critical genetic information is the main obstacle to making an accurate determination from the point of view of COSEWIC. Threats to portions of the species gene pool can not be determined by available information summarised here. In my view, there must be more assessment of unique genetic stocks through DNA analysis of spawning fish (analogous to the [sic] comparing extreme examples of spawning salmon returning to its home stream). Given natural dispersal of fish across boundaries in nursery areas)[sic], the only real answers will come from analysis of each reproductive population. Information provided in first paragraph of page 5 does not tell me whether spawning analysed by Mork et al., Ruzzante et al., DFO/Rice, Taggart and Ruzzante were definable spawning populations from which a definable subpopulation perpetuates itself or whether samples including [sic] other populations which just happen to be foraging through the area. Obviously more work is needed.

COSEWIC should avoid making a decision based on economic health of the fishery and stress the status of the gene poool, which in this case requires more genetic data. In the meantime, COSEWIC designation (1998) of "Lower risk, conservation dependant" may be appropriate pending acquisition of relevant research data. I personally wish to thank K.N.I. Bell for producing such an extensive and thorough report.



Alex. E. Peden

[* these were the typos etc. that resulted from COSEWIC's illegal alterations of the Report prior to sending it out.]

Don E. McAllister, March 4, 1998:

[letter is long, talks about DFO not consulting with NGOs; good points but not relevant to the report itself, so just the first paragraphs are here. Some useful materials sent with the letter, esp. on habitat, trawling.]

Dear Bob:

I finished the review of the Atlantic cod report and mailed my general comments together tiwh my notes on written on the draft, yesterday. So you should have it now.

I agree with the rating given and the approach to rate stocks or fishing areas. An overall rating for the Canadian populations as a whole, would presumably result in a vulnerable category which would not reflect the danger that some stocks are in or that some stocks have probably disappeared.

On the other hand, Bell, like DFO itself, has a narrow fisheries-stock focus. This results in ignoring important areas for conservation and a lack of data - virtually no monitoring data on habitat conditions. There is not even a map showing which areas are intensively trawled, or a map showing relative trawling intensity. See the attached map from Auster and Langton's paper, The Indirect Effects of Fishing. Messieh et al, who I quoted in my review, had data on trawl drag marks on the bottom, but he did not map it. DFO, even if it didn't have this kind of data could plot what might be better from trawler logs, the lines between beginning and end points of trawl sets. It would be better because unlike the trawl dragging marks can be wiped out by currents of subsequent trawls over the last set. It wouldn't even be necessary to plot every trawl line.

A statistician could advice on whether one in ten, twenty or 50 would give an adequate picture ...


The Atlantic cod situation is a glaring case under the public spotlight in coastal communities, in parliament, in international fora and amongst conservationists. What is scarcely appreciated is the abysmal ignorance about status of other marine biota and ecosystems. Aside from commercial species, there is little known about our marine biodiversity. we do not even have an adequate marine ecosystem classification or maps showing their occurrence. Yet the management approach now in the wind is ecosystem-based management, a topic which NGOs brought up for discussion at the Global Biodiversity Forum two years ago in Montreal (and for which I got Jim Beckett to volunteer as somehwat reluctant chair). This development is the sort for which DFO could expect public support from NGOs, especially if there had been regular consultation with them.

It will be interesting to see what kind of report is issued by the parliamentary committee



Don E. McAllister

Marine Consultant,

President, Ocean Voice International

Co-chair, IUCN SSC Coral Reef Fish Specialist Group"