The Importance of Regulating a Sustainable Atlantic Commercial Fishing Industry

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Sustainable Atlantic Commercial Fishing

The Grand Banks, a group of underwater plateaus off the coast of Newfoundland, is home to one of the richest fishing grounds in the world. Since the late 15th century, fishermen have flocked to its abundant waters. It seems incomprehensible that these waters, thick with fish, could ever be depleted of their stock. Yet, in 1992, due to massive overfishing, the Northern Cod population was nearly wiped out completely and approximately 30,000 Newfoundlanders lost their jobs (Canadian Encyclopedia, 2013, WWF 2014).The collapse of the Grand Banks fish stocks, an environmental catastrophe, was a very loud wake-up call to the importance of regulating a sustainable Atlantic commercial fishing industry.


Canada is a member of a variety of regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) whose job it is to manage, conserve and protect fish stocks within their area of jurisdiction, using a science-based approach. Two RFMOs that oversee Atlantic commercial fishing are the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO). These organizations operate under the rules of international law, using science-based management to ensure the sustainability of fishing practices (Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 2011).


The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) is a partnership of scientists, the tuna industry and the WWF (World Wildlife Fund), a leader in conservation. The ISSF focuses on comprehensive science-based initiatives, promoting a long-term conservation plan and the sustainability of tuna stocks while protecting ocean ecosystems as a whole. The ISSF gathers scientifically analysed data and regularly releases updated reports on the status of the fish stocks. ISSF projects include:
  • Eliminating overfishing by pressuring RFMOs to adopt conservation strategies.
  • Improving stock assessments: involving scientists to determine how tuna stocks are best assessed.
  • Pushing for improvements in fishing practices, researching techniques to avoid bycatch (catching unintended species of fish) while educating fishers through continual instruction and vigilance.
  • Operating a database of Unique Vessel Identifiers (UVIs) to prevent fishers from changing their names to hide illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) behaviour that leads to gross overfishing (ISSF, 2012).

Clover Leaf

Clover Leaf Seafoods is a founding member of the ISSF and is committed to transparency and compliance with ISSF resolutions. As such, they are audited by an outside law firm, which annually evaluates and reports on the compliance of companies in seventeen areas. Audit points include confirmation that no tuna are IUU, no large-scale drift nets are used, and ensuring the best practices are employed by purse seiners (a method of fishing using FADs or fish aggregating devices). Clover Leaf was found compliant on all seventeen points.
Clover Leaf is also committed to sustainability in areas other than fishing, by reducing packaging and setting targets for reducing energy, water usage and waste (Clover Leaf, 2014).

Taking Responsibility

Responsibility for the mismanagement of Atlantic cod stocks in the nineties should be borne by government regulators, fishers, seafood companies and consumers alike. It is now evident that all these groups must work together to support a sustainable Atlantic commercial fishing industry, while also protecting our oceans’ delicate ecosystems. Lessons have been learned and progress has been made, but there is much more to do. 

Works Cited

Canadian Encyclopedia. (2013) The Grand Banks. Retrieved October 22, 2014, from

Clover Leaf. (2014) Sustainability. Retrieved October 23, 2014, from:

Fisheries and Oceans Canada. (2011) Regional Fisheries Management Organizations. Retrieved October 24, 2024 from

ISSF. (2012) The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation. PDF Document retrieved October 23, 2104 from:

WWF. (2014) Cod. Retrieved October 23, 2014 from:

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