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Legal listing consultation workbook for Cusk (Brosme brosme)


Cusk (Brosme brosme)


Addition of species to the Species at Risk Act

Introductory Information

Species at Risk and You

Scientists estimate that the world’s species are becoming extinct at a rate that is as much as 10,000 times higher than it should naturally be. It’s a staggering statistic and a source of concern for all humans. Although many Canadians understand that species have intrinsic worth, sometimes we forget why the disappearance of a species matters. At the most basic level, species diversity, often referred to as “biodiversity,” is crucial to ensure that life continues on earth. From a human standpoint, biodiversity also supports people’s livelihoods, enables sustainable development and encourages cooperation among nations.

In 2003, the Government of Canada took a major step toward protecting species at risk and their habitats in Canada when it proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA). SARA was designed as a key tool for the conservation and protection of biodiversity in Canada. It provides a framework for action across the country to ensure the survival and recovery of wildlife species at risk and the protection of our natural heritage. The law protects those plants and animals that are included on the “List of Wildlife Species at Risk,” sometimes referred to as “Schedule 1” or the “SARA List.”

(For more information on SARA, visit the SARA Public Registry).

In order to determine which species should be “listed,” or added to the SARA list of protected species, the Government of Canada consults the general public, with special emphasis on those groups either directly involved with or particularly interested in the species under review. The government makes its decision only after carefully considering the outcome of consultations as well as the potential social and economic implications of listing the species. This consultation workbook is part of the Government’s effort to obtain feedback on whether or not cusk should be added to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk.

Your thoughts on this issue are important and play a crucial role in the listing process. They will be carefully reviewed and considered. Please answer all of the questions in this workbook to the best of your ability. If you have additional comments, space has been provided for them as well.  To ensure that your responses are considered, please return your completed workbook or any other comments you may have to the address on page 8 by August 1, 2008. Thank you for your help.

For More Information on Species at Risk in Canada





Terms You Should Know

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assigns a "status" to each species it considers. The status indicates the degree to which a species is at risk. Considered here are:

Extirpated: A species that no longer exists in the wild in Canada, but exists elsewhere in the world

Endangered: A species facing imminent extinction or extirpation

Threatened: A species that is likely to become endangered if certain factors affecting it are not addressed

Special Concern: A species with biological characteristics that make it particularly vulnerable to human activity or certain natural phenomena

Other Information You Should Know

How is a Species Listed?

  1. The species is assessed and assigned a status by the COSEWIC. This committee is comprised of specialists working in a variety of relevant fields, such as biology, ecology, and traditional ecological knowledge. They come from government, universities, Aboriginal organizations, and non-governmental organizations, and they are appointed according to their expertise. However they do not represent the agency, group or region from which they are drawn, but must provide impartial scientific recommendations about the species they are considering.
  2. The COSEWIC provides the status report to the Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council, which is comprised of provincial and territorial ministers responsible for the conservation and management of wildlife, in addition to the federal ministers responsible for the administration of SARA (the Minister of the Environment, and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans). A copy is also posted on the SARA Public Registry.
  3. The Minister of the Environment indicates how he or she will respond to a COSEWIC assessment in a "Response Statement". This Response Statement indicates the nature and timing of consultations and is posted on the SARA Public Registry within 90 days of receiving the COSEWIC Assessment.
  4. Consultations are undertaken by the lead federal departments, Environment Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), and the information brought forward is analyzed.
  5. Based on advice from the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, the Minister of the Environment must provide the Governor in Council (the Governor General of Canada acting on the advice of Cabinet) with a recommendation to add or not add the species to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. In order to make his or her decision, the Minister will take into consideration the COSEWIC's scientific assessment of the species, the information provided by Canadians obtained through initiatives like this consultation workbook, and the anticipated socio-economic impacts of adding the species to the SARA List. The Minister can offer three possible responses to the COSEWIC assessment.
    1. Accept the COSEWIC assessment and, as it advises, either add the species, reclassify it, or remove it from the SARA List
    2. Determine that the species should not be added to the SARA List
    3. Determine that there is insufficient information to make a decision, and refer the species back to COSEWIC for further consideration

How Does SARA Protect a Species?

Immediately upon a species being added to the SARA List as extirpated, endangered, or threatened, it receives protection under SARA. It is then an offence to:

  • kill, harm, harass, capture or take an individual of these listed species
  • possess, collect, buy, sell or trade an individual, part or derivative of these listed species
  • damage or destroy the residence of one or more individuals of these listed species.

The only exceptions to these rules occur when the government issues specific authorizations for: scientific research about the conservation of the species done by a qualified person; an activity that benefits the species or enhances its chances of survival in the wild; or an activity whose effect on the listed species is incidental. In all cases, the activity must not jeopardize survival or recovery.For species listed as special concern, prohibitions do not apply.

What Happens Next?

After a species is listed, the recovery process begins in an effort to reduce the causes of a species' decline and to improve the status of the species. There are two parts to the process for extirpated, endangered or threatened species: a recovery strategy, which identifies threats to the species and describes recovery objectives, and an action plan, which details the activities that must be carried out to promote the species' recovery. The process for species of special concern requires a management plan, which lists appropriate conservation measures for a species and its habitat. All of these documents are developed through extensive consultation with scientists, community members, Aboriginal groups and community stakeholders. Then, the strategies and plans are published in the SARA Public Registry, and the public has 60 days to comment on them. Five years after the plans come into effect, the responsible government minister must report on their implementation and the progress that has been made in meeting the objectives they outlined.

Species specific information


Cusk, Brosme brosme is a slow-moving, sedentary and solitary bottom-dwelling gadoid fish. It can be distinguished from other cod-related fishes by its single dorsal and anal fins. Cusk can grow to approximately 100 cm in length and 12 kg in weight. They vary in color from reddish brown to green, shading to cream to white on the belly.

In Canada, cusk are found primarily in the Gulf of Maine and on the southeastern edge of the Scotian Shelf.

Cusk generally prefer a rocky bottom but are occasionally found over gravel and mud (rarely over sand). They are often caught in deep water (> 200m) and, based on DFO summer survey data, in a temperature range of 6-10° C.

Spawning on the Scotian Shelf occurs from May to August, peaking in June but may be earlier in the Gulf of Maine.

The diet of cusk is difficult to determine because, when brought to the surface, their stomachs are often everted. However, cusk are thought to feed primarily on marine invertebrates (crab, shrimp and krill) and occasionally on fish.

COSEWIC assessment

COSEWIC provides the following rationale for designating the cusk as threatened:

The main population of this large, slow-growing, solitary, bottom-living fish resides in the Gulf of Maine/Southeastern Scotian Shelf and has been in decline since 1970. Over three generations, the decline rate is over 90 %, and the fish occurs in fewer and fewer survey trawls over time. Fishing, unrestricted until 1999, is now capped but remains a source of mortality. This species is a monotypic North Atlantic genus.

In April of 2006, the Government of Canada returned the cusk assessment to COSEWIC based on the significant emphasis on trawl survey data that may have exaggerated the decline in abundance for cusk. The following December, COSEWIC responded by indicating that it had considered the points raised in government responses to its assessment of cusk, and has reviewed the available information on this species and affirms its original status assessment of the cusk as a Threatened species. Because openness and transparency are required when deciding on which species should be added to the SARA list, the Government of Canada is once again consulting Canadians for their views on adding this species to the SARA list.

Threats to Cusk

Current threats to cusk are poorly understood. However, fishing mortality is thought to be the biggest threat facing the recovery of this species. Although there is no directed commercial fishery for cusk, they are known to be taken as bycatch in a number of fisheries including longline fisheries that target other groundfish species such as cod and haddock and trap fisheries.

Protecting Cusk

In 1999, a bycatch cap of 1000 tons was placed on cusk landings in the 4VWX fixed gear fishery. This cap was reduced to 750 tons in 2003. Since cusk is primarily taken as bycatch in other fisheries, it may be difficult to limit catches of cusk without affecting landings of the target species.

Potential Impacts on Stakeholders

Once added to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk, cusk will be protected. If particular activities are assessed to be a threat to the survival and recovery of a listed species, management measures will be put in place to limit those activities and ensure the protection of species at risk.

These measures may lead to a variety of impacts on stakeholders, including additional costs. The following list is not exhaustive; please use this consultation as an opportunity to list omissions.


Management strategies that could affect Aboriginal people fishing for commercial species in areas inhabited by cusk may be considered. Some bycatch may be allowed in fisheries taking cusk incidentally if measures are taken to minimize the impacts on cusk and the conservation of the species is not compromised.

Fishing Industry

It is important to fully determine the extent of potential threat to cusk by any fishing activities. If a particular fishing activity is identified to be a threat to the survival and recovery of a listed species, management measures will be taken to address the threat. These measures could include increased observer coverage in certain areas, closed areas, gear modifications, or other measures developed in collaboration with industry that will help prevent and minimize interactions.

Oil and Gas Industry

The effects of the oil and gas industry on groundfish populations are poorly understood. Seismic testing may have a deleterious effect on demersal fish, eggs and larvae. Proposed oil and gas activities that fall under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) will need to address the impacts on SARA listed species in accordance with this legislation.

Military Operations

Maritime Forces Atlantic may be asked to prepare guidelines for naval exercises or underwater site remediation in areas of cusk habitat. They may be asked to refrain from undertaking specific types of exercises in these areas or in areas that could impinge on critical habitat (if and when identified). As identified in SARA, these requirements would be waived in emergencies or if national security were affected.

Research Activity

Those wishing to carry out research on cusk or in areas of their habitat may be required to comply with strict guidelines. This may limit the types and/or durations of research permitted on cusk and may lengthen the preparation time required for planning research projects.


COSEWIC 2003. COSEWIC assessment and status report on the cusk Brosme brosme in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. Vi + 30 pp.

Harris, L.E., Comeau. P.A., and D.S Clark. 2002. Evaluation of cusk (Brosme brosme) in Canadian Waters. CSAS Res. Doc. 2002/104. 39 pp.

Oldham, W.S. 1966. Some aspects of the fishery and life history of the cusk (Brosme brosme (Muller)).Thesis (M. Sc.) - University of Western Ontario. 86 p.

Scott, W.B. and M.G. Scott. 1988. Atlantic Fishes of Canada. Can. Bull. Fish Aquat. Sci. 219. 731 p.

Canada Gazette Part IIVol. 140, No. 8(SOR/2006-55 to 62 and SI/2006-56 to 61) April, 2006

Consultation Workbook Survey – Cusk

The government's decision on whether or not to list a species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) will be based on a full description and understanding of the costs and benefits of the impacts of protection and recovery on individuals, organizations, Aboriginal people, industries, and Canadian society in general.

This survey form can be used to provide your opinions about listing cusk under SARA. It also begins with some general questions about conservation priorities and your awareness of other aquatic species at risk.

Comments are welcome from individuals of all backgrounds, whether you are engaged in activities that may be affected by cusk conservation efforts or are a citizen with an interest in cusk.

You should read the consultation workbook before completing these questions.

About the Consultation Workbook Survey

The consultation workbook survey asks you to answer a series of questions that require reflection about your views relating to the conservation and recovery of cusk. There are a variety of question formats in this survey. There are also opportunities for personal responses to further explain your views. If you would like to keep the introductory sections of this workbook, please feel free to detach this section and return only the survey.

Please return your workbook by August 1, 2008 to:

Species at Risk Coordination Office
Bedford Institute of Oceanography
P.O. Box 1006
1 Challenger Drive
Dartmouth, NS B2Y 4A2

Alternatively, you may email comments to XMARSARA@mar.dfo-mpo.gc.ca or visit http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca to download an electronic version of this survey.

The information that you provide is important! We very much appreciate the time and effort you take to complete this survey!


Please choose an option that reflects your rating of the likely economic costs (direct and indirect) of cusk survival and recovery to each industry or group


Somewhat Low


Somewhat High

Very High

I have no opinion on this factor

Costs to Fixed Gear Groundfish Fishers

Costs to Mobile Gear Groundfish Fishers

Costs to Lobster Fishers

Cost to Snow Crab Fishers

Costs to the oil and gas industry

Costs to scientific researchers

Costs to my personal household

Other, please specify;


Do you have any further comments regarding the potential economic costs of the survival and recovery of cusk?


Please choose an option that reflects your rating of the potential benefits (economic or social) of cusk survival and recovery.


Somewhat Low


Somewhat High

Very High

I have no opinion on this factor

Benefits to maritime coastal communities

Benefits to Canadian society as a whole

Benefits to Aboriginal people

Benefits to the scientific community

Other, please specify;


Do you have any further comments regarding the potential benefits (economic or social) of the survival and recovery of cusk?


Please choose an option that reflects your level of agreement or disagreement with the following statements.

Strongly Disagree

Somewhat Disagree

Neither Agree Nor Disagree

Somewhat Agree

Strongly Agree

I have no opinion on this factor

I think that cusk are valuable because they play an important role in maintaining healthy marine ecosystems.

I think that cusk will be valuable to future generations.

I believe that cusk needs special protection or care from human interactions and/or activities.

I am prepared to suffer a loss of revenue to protect cusk.

I believe it is important for the Government of Canada to allocate federal funding to support the recovery of cusk.

I think that many people in Canada value cusk even though they may never personally see any.

Other, please specify;


Comments about the proposed listing status of cusk conservation


Have you read the COSEWIC status reports for this species?



Please choose an option that reflects your level of support for the Government of Canada listing cusk on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act.

I Strongly Disagree with listing cusk as Threatened

I Somewhat Disagree with listing cusk as Threatened

I Neither Agree nor Disagree with listing cusk as Threatened

I Somewhat Agree with listing cusk as Threatened

I Strongly Agree with listing cusk as Threatened

General Questions

1. Could you please tell us why you agree or disagree with listing cusk on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act?

2. a) If a legal listing will affect your activities, do you see these effects as a cost or benefit to you? In what way? Please consider social costs and benefits as well as economic costs and benefits.

2 b). If you see these effects as a cost, are there steps that you or your sector could take to reduce these costs? If so, please explain.

3. In the event that this species is listed, how can you as an individual, or your industry or organization as a group, participate in the recovery of this species? Give examples of particular activities, if you can.

4. Do you think that management can be achieved without adding this species to the SARA list? Please explain.

Background information about you

What is Your Age Category?

< 20 Years

20-29 Years

30-39 Years

40-49 Years

50-59 Years

60-69 Years

> 70 Years

What is Your Gender?



In which sector are you employed?


Full-Time Homemaker


Commercial Fishing/Processing



Oil and Gas

Professional Services

Private Sector – Other


Federal Government

Provincial Government

Municipal Government

Non-Governmental Organization

I am Between Jobs

I am Employed in another Field

Where do you live?

Nova Scotia

New Brunswick

Prince Edward Island

Newfoundland and Labrador



Western Canada or Territories

Outside Canada but I am a Canadian Citizen or Permanent Resident

Outside Canada - I am not a Canadian Citizen or Permanent Resident

If you are directly involved in fishing activities, in what NAFO areas do you fish









If you are completing this workbook as a representative of an organization, please indicate your name, the name of your organization and a contact address.

You've now finished the survey – thank you very much for your help