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Understanding cod stocks

By Naomi Osborne

As an avid learner and seeker of new experiences, Genevieve D'Avignon took her love of nature and passion for the outdoors and turned it into an interest in aquatic and marine ecosystems research.

Having grown up in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., Ms. D'Avignon began her studies by obtaining a bachelor of science in agriculture and environmental sciences at McGill University. She also specialized in biodiversity, conservation and wildlife biology and worked with various environmental groups in Quebec and Panama to further her skills before coming to Memorial University to obtain her master of science degree in biology.

As part of her master's program at Memorial, Ms. D'Avignon joined the Marine Institute's (MI) Centre for Fisheries Ecosystem Research (CFER) in 2010 to undertake research on the past and present impacts of fishing in Newfoundland and Labrador and to ultimately gain more knowledge about cod – one of the most famous species in conservation biology.

Now in the final stages of completing her master's degree, Ms. D'Avignon describes her experience working alongside Dr. George Rose, director at CFER, as well as other scientists within the centre, as "enriching."

"At CFER, broadening the pool of knowledge is encouraged and valued," she said. "Researchers, students and scientists are encouraged to work together and share experiences and knowledge. This helps us build ties, develop higher understanding and contribute to better training and the acquisition of invaluable life and work experiences."

The purpose of Ms. D'Avignon's research project is to investigate the use of cod otoliths (fish ear stones) as a natural tag for Newfoundland and Labrador cod spawning groups and assess whether this method can be used to identify individual cod. If possible, this method is expected to help answer vital questions on cod connectivity, while providing insight into cod stock condition and recovery.

Cod otoliths contain a series of trace elements which are generally present in the environment of the fish. By analyzing this chemical tag, researchers are able to distinguish cod of different origins or living in different habitats, which enables them to potentially study the movements of fish between habitats.

"Ultimately, my research project aims to gain a better understanding of the stock structure and dynamics of Atlantic cod to help rebuild the stocks, which is of essential economic importance to many Canadians in the Atlantic regions," Ms. D'Avignon explained.

For Ms. D'Avignon's research project, cod otoliths were selected from four spawning areas around Newfoundland and Labrador: Bar Haven in Placentia Bay, Halibut Channel and surrounding areas in the offshore portion of the 3Ps Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization division, Smith Sound in Trinity Bay and Hawke Channel.

Working with CFER has helped Ms. D'Avignon develop her skills to lead her own research project while taking part in different projects both at sea and in the lab.
"Conducting my research project with CFER has allowed me to gain experience and a better understanding of Canadian fisheries and the important issues that still need to be addressed to bring about change and better management of marine ecosystems," she said. "Through this I have been able to develop a network of research scientists in the field and gain hands-on experience on fisheries research."