An Exploration of Our Marine Protected Areas
Interview with Corey Morris, images provided by Dave Howells.
Golden Cod is a visually and genetically distinct population of Atlantic Cod that live in Gilbert Bay, Labrador. Corey Morris, a researcher with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and John Green at Memorial University have been studying Atlantic Cod, in particular the Golden Cod for the past nineteen years. The research is done jointly with people from the local community and their involvement is key to the success of the MPA.
The Gilbert Bay Marine Protected Area (MPA)
The Gilbert Bay Marine Protected Area (MPA), located in Labrador, was first designated under the Oceans Act on October 11, 2005, at the request of local stakeholders. The goal of creating the MPA was to protect the ‘golden cod’, a genetically-distinct population of Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua), which spends most of its life inside Gilbert Bay. Gilbert Bay is a narrow inlet located on the southeast coast of Labrador, approximately 300 km from Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The bay has two narrow openings to the Labrador Sea near the community of William’s Harbour. The Gilbert Bay MPA itself is approximately 60 km2, and is divided into three different management zones with varying levels of protection. There are several physical conditions that exist within the bay which likely play a role in keeping this Gilbert Bay population relatively isolated from other Atlantic cod populations in the region. Gilbert Bay has a relatively short ice-free season, highly stratified temperature and salinity (salt) gradients, and has shallow sills rising to depths of 5m separating portions of the bay. In addition to the cod population, Gilbert Bay is home to a wide range of marine species including Icelandic Scallop, Rock Crab, Winter Flounder, Atlantic salmon, Arctic Char, Capelin, Herring, and important habitats such as coralline algae beds and eelgrass beds. Waterfowl such as loons, geese and mergansers use the area seasonally and it is also visited by marine mammals such as Minke Whale, Harbour Porpoise, Killer Whales, and Harp Seals.
The main communities near Gilbert Bay are Port Hope Simpson and William’s Harbour where the majority of stakeholders reside. Located approximately 20 km from Gilbert Bay, Port Hope Simpson has a resident population of approximately 575 people. Originally established as a logging town in 1934, fishing became and remains the mainstay of the community. William’s Harbour is located at the mouth of Gilbert Bay and has a population of approximately 45 people.
Scientists have been studying Atlantic cod in Gilbert Bay since 1996, and working together with local fish harvesters identified Gilbert Bay cod as a resident population, genetically distinct from other Atlantic cod populations. Local residents became very concerned when the commercial northern cod fishery re-opened in 1998 and wanted to make sure this special population was protected. The creation of a Marine Protected Area was identified as a potential solution. The success of the Gilbert Bay MPA continues to be closely tied to the level of local support and community involvement in the MPA including research, monitoring, and educational programs.