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COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Atlantic Cod in Canada


Global range

Atlantic cod inhabit all waters overlying the continental shelves of the Northwest and the Northeast Atlantic Ocean.  In the west, cod extend from waters just south of Georges Bank northward to Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada (Figure 2).  In the Northeast Atlantic, cod range from the North Sea northward through the Norwegian Sea to the Barents Sea off Norway and northern Russia.  Cod are also found in abundance in the Skaggerak and Kattegak, the strait separating Scandinavia from Denmark, and in the southern parts of the Baltic Sea.  On a global scale, the historical distribution of cod probably differs relatively little from that of its present distribution.

Figure 2.  Global distribution of Atlantic cod

Figure 2.  Global distribution of Atlantic cod.


Canadian range

In Canada, Atlantic cod are found contiguously along the east coast from Georges Bank and the Bay of Fundy in the south, northward along the Scotian Shelf, throughout the Gulf of St. Lawrence, around the island of Newfoundland, and finally along the east coasts of Labrador and Baffin Island, Nunavut (Figures 2 and 3).  There are also several landlocked populations of Atlantic cod on Baffin Island (McLaren 1967; Patriquin 1967; Table 1).  Outside Canadian waters, cod can be found on the northeast and southeast tips of Grand Bank and on Flemish Cap, lying immediately northeast of Grand Bank.

In addition to these offshore waters (typically at depths less than 500 metres), cod can also be found throughout the coastal, inshore waters of Atlantic Canada.  The best-studied of these is probably the small, resident Gilbert Bay population in southern Labrador (Green and Wroblewski 2000; Morris and Green 2002), a population that is geographically and genetically distinct from cod inhabiting the offshore waters in this area (Ruzzante et al. 2000; Beacham et al. 2002).  Local ecological knowledge, based on interviews with fishers conducted by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in concert with the Fishermen and Scientists Research Society in the Maritimes, suggests that local, inshore spawning aggregations of cod along coastal Nova Scotia were fewer in number in the late 1990s compared with earlier years.

Figure 3.  Distribution of Atlantic cod in North America from the southern extreme of the species’ range to northern Labrador

Figure 3.  Distribution of Atlantic cod in North America from the southern extreme of the species’ range to northern Labrador, as determined from fisheries independent surveys conducted by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the National Marine Fisheries Service in the United States.  Dots represent survey catch rate data from 1975 to 1994.

The extent of occurrence of Atlantic cod in Canadian waters is probably on the order of 1.1 million square kilometers, an area larger than Ontario, and an area slightly smaller than Quebec.  The extent of occurrence has either remained stable over the past four decades (and earlier) or it has declined.  Area of occupancy appears to have declined in the areas where such measurements are possible (see POPULATION SIZES AND TRENDS below).