The study, to be published Friday in the journal Science, was compiled by researchers who examined 153 fish and invertebrate stocks from around the world.
Most fish species are resilient enough to recover within a decade if swift action is taken to reduce pressure on depleted stocks, the researchers say.
“But when you don’t take action rapidly … not only does it result in a much longer potential recovery time, but the uncertainty as to whether recovery will happen at all increases exponentially,” said Jeff Hutchings, a professor of biology at Dalhousie University and one of the authors of the study.
Hutchings said that may explain why cod hasn’t bounced back more than 20 years after Ottawa declared a moratorium on the commercial cod fishery, a once thriving Atlantic Canadian industry.
“Here we are two decades after enormous depletion of cod stocks … and people are still wondering about the prospects of recovery,” said Hutchings.
“Our study really suggests that recovery is quite unlikely now for cod because of our failure to act when we could have.”
Hutchings said the federal government needs to set a population threshold that would determine when action must be taken to reduce pressure on a fishery.
He said legislation is needed to allow for depleted stocks to recover, as they have in the United States.
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