HALIFAX, N.S. - The amount of cod caught on the Grand Banks in the last year exceeded a voluntary bycatch reduction target set by the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization by over 500 tonnes, or 119 per cent, the World Wildlife Fund said Wednesday.

"We cannot continue to ignore these numbers," Robert Rangeley, the WWF's vice-president for the Atlantic region, said in a release.

"Rebuilding fish stocks and ecosystems is possible if exploitation rates are reduced and effective controls are implemented in waters beyond national jurisdictions."

In 2008, NAFO set a voluntary bycatch reduction target of 420 tonnes after delegates opposed making them mandatory. The target figure is estimated to be the maximum bycatch the cod population can withstand and still have a chance to recover.

A bycatch is the amount fishing boats are allowed to keep of a species they are not specifically fishing for.

The WWF said the voluntary reduction has failed and urged NAFO to bring in stringent measures such as absolute bycatch limits and quotas more in line with scientific advice.

Rangeley said rebuilding fish stocks off Canada's East Coast is possible if stricter controls are put in place.

"By enforcing absolute limits on cod bycatch through a combination of gear restrictions and closed areas ... NAFO can provide the last chance for restoring this cod fishery."

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