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News Release

Two Atlantic Cod populations designated at risk
Canadian List of Species at Risk increases to 431


Whitehorse, May 2, 2003 – Two populations of the Atlantic Cod have been designated as threatened and endangered following assessments this week by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

There are now 431 species in various COSEWIC risk categories, including 153 that are endangered, 102 that are threatened, and 143 species of special concern. In addition, 21 species are extirpated (no longer found in Canada), and 12 are extinct. Another 29 species are considered data deficient. The number of species on the list has increased by 16 since the November 2002 COSEWIC meeting.

The Newfoundland and Labrador population (see below for specific stocks) of the Atlantic Cod was designated as endangered. Over the last 30 years, there has been a 97% decline in cod off the northeast coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the species has essentially disappeared from offshore portions of its range. Fishing has been the main threat to the cod, but directed commercial and recreational fisheries have now been closed.

The Laurentian North population of the Atlantic Cod, which extends from the northern Gulf of the St-Lawrence to Newfoundland’s south coast, was assessed as threatened. Cod remain abundant in the eastern part of the region (southern coast of Newfoundland), but have declined substantially in the northern Gulf, where the fishery is now also closed.

The Maritimes population of the Atlantic Cod remains in the special concern category.

Two species were downlisted to a lower category of risk. The Western North Atlantic population of the Humpback Whale, previously listed in the special concern category, was removed from the list, due in part to the success of recovery efforts. Fewer Humpback Whales are becoming entangled in fishing nets, and people have become more proficient at untangling those that are caught. There are now about 10,000 Humpback whales in the Western North Atlantic.

The Northwest Atlantic population of the Harbour Porpoise was also downlisted, from threatened, to special concern. Because of reduced fishing activities in the Atlantic and measures to reduce bycatch in the Bay of Fundy, fewer porpoises are killed accidentally. However concerns remain about potential bycatch levels, and further monitoring is required.

Three species of plants found in British Columbia’s Garry Oak ecosystems were added to the list. The Howell’s Triteleia, the Coastal Scouler’s Catchfly and the Kellogg’s Rush were all found to be endangered. Garry Oak ecosystems are home to more plant species than any other terrestrial ecosystem in coastal British Columbia. Over recent decades, habitat conversion of the ecosystems to agricultural and urban uses has occurred at an accelerating rate. Less than five per cent of the original Garry Oak habitat remains. It is one of the most endangered ecosystems in Canada.

The Western population of the Wolverine, found in five provinces and three territories, including the area around Whitehorse, remained in the special concern category after being reassessed. The eastern population remains endangered, and may no longer exist.

COSEWIC confirmed two emergency listings made in October 2002. The Cultus and Sakinaw populations of the Sockeye Salmon are both endangered.

The Committee also spent two days meeting with representatives of Wildlife Management Boards from across Canada during its stay in Whitehorse. "This was an important first step in launching a new partnership with Boards established under land claim settlements, who play a major role in wildlife conservation," said COSEWIC chair Dr. Marco Festa-Bianchet. "They welcomed us to the North enthusiastically, and helped us gain a better appreciation of the broad range of their activities," he added.

COSEWIC assessed 40 species during its five-day meeting. Twenty-four species were assessed for the first time, 19 of which were added to the COSEWIC list of Species at Risk.

COSEWIC is an independent committee of wildlife experts that uses the best information available to determine the level of risk of extinction for Canada's wildlife species. Since the committee was formed in 1977, it has completed 612 species assessments. COSEWIC is composed of government and non-government members, members from academic institutions, and two members who facilitate the inclusion of Aboriginal traditional knowledge.

Definition of COSEWIC terms and risk categories
  • Species :
  • Any indigenous species, subspecies, variety, or geographically or genetically defined population of wild fauna and flora.
  • Population : A geographically or otherwise distinct group of plants or animals that has little demographic or genetic exchange with other such groups.
  • Extinct : A species that no longer exists.
  • Extirpated : A species no longer existing in the wild in Canada, but occurring elsewhere.
  • Endangered : A species facing imminent extirpation or extinction.
  • Threatened : A species likely to become endangered if limiting factors are not reversed.
  • Special Concern : Those species that are particularly sensitive to human activities or natural events but are not endangered or threatened species.
  • Not at Risk : A species that has been evaluated and found not to be at risk.
  • Data Deficient : A species for which there is insufficient scientific information to support status designation.
Cod stocks
The following stocks comprise cod populations assessed by COSEWIC:

Newfoundland and Labrador population:
2GH, 2J3KL, 3NO

Laurentian North population:
3Ps, 3Pn4RS

Maritimes population:
4TVn, 4VsW, 4X, Georges Bank


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For further information, contact:

Note to members of the media: All of the contacts listed below will be in Whitehorse through Sunday May 4, and can be reached at the Westmark Whitehorse Hotel at (867) 393-9700.

Dr. Marco Festa-Bianchet
(819) 821-8000 (Ext. 2061)

General inquiries:
COSEWIC Secretariat
(819) 953-3215

For inquiries on Cod:
Dr. Richard Haedrich
Co-chair, Marine Fishes Specialist Sub-committee
(709) 737-8833

For inquiries on whales:
Dr. Hal Whitehead
Co-chair, Marine Mammal
Specialist Sub-committee

Further details on the species assessed, and the reasons behind each designation, can be found on the COSEWIC website at: