International Coordinated Survey in Flemish Cap

(Basic Data Collection Program)

The main interest of Flemish Cap fisheries research is to adequately understand the evolution of fishing grounds in the traditionall cod and flatfish fisheries, and more recently, redfish , Greenland halibut , grenadier and shrimp fisheries. Spain and Portugal are the EU countries most directly concerned in those fisheries.

Flemish Cap is an isolated zone of the American coastal shelf with an area of ​​approximately 17,000 square miles, extending to 1460 meters depth. Flemish Cap was located for the first time in 1750, during the hydrographic survey of M. Chabert. The Flemish Pass, area with depths over a thousand meters, separates the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and gives Flemish Cap its isolated features by limiting the migration of many species, particularly those living in the shallower areas.

Flemish Cap is surrounded by two main current systems. The Labrador Current transports cold and low salinity water southward through the Flemish Pass and along the eastern margin of the Grand Banks. A branch of this current drift E and then SE around the north and northeast slopes of Flemish Cap. The North Atlantic Current, warm and high salinity water, flows to the E and NE near the southern slope of Flemish Cap but without entering the bank. In the central portion of the bank exists predominantly a weak anticyclonic system.


The aim of the campaign is to know the status of populations of target species: abundance, biomass and population structure, but also the oceanographic conditions in the area.

Species of study:

  • Cod (Gadus morhua)
  • Red fish (Sebastes marinus, S. mentella and S. fasciatus)
  • American plaice (Hippoglossoides platessoides)
  • Greenland halibut (Reinhardtius hippoglossoides)
  • Grenadier(Macrourus berglax)
  • Shrimp(Pandalus borealis)


Templeman made ​​the first complete description of Flemish Cap, and includes reference to the decreasing trend in cod sizes in the late nineteenth century, according to American fishermen opinion, who were regular visitors in spring and summer.

In Flemish Cap have been regularly observed fluctuations in the size of year classes of cod and redfish, which justified international research project on the factors affecting the production of good and bad year classes. In the years in which the plan was developed there were some very poor annual recruitments of cod which prevented the properly development of the studies projected. It was concluded that the dominance of the anticyclonic sytem in the area was the main factor affecting larval survival, although this hypothesis is far from being completely understood.


The inaccuracy in the catch statistics was a constant problem in the history of Flemish Cap fisheries, as a result of overfishing of national quotas of NAFO members (not reported) and also the the presence of an uncontrolled fleet of non-members countries, whose declaration of catches offered no guarantees. Under these conditions the information from research surveys on Flemish Cap fisheries was the most reliable on the status of populations. Russia conducted annual surveys during the period 1977-1993, but there is a great disparity in results between his surveys and ours. The Canada surveys covered the period from 1977 to 1985.

Flemish Cap is entirely beyondof any 200-mile economic zone, including the Canadian one, and the exploitation of its resources is regulated by international agreements of NAFO (Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization ).

Working program

This annual fisheries research survey was initiated by the EU in 1988. The campaign was conducted onboard the R/V Cornide Saavedra until 2002 and covered the 19 strata defined up to 730 m deep, as their main objective was the assessment of cod and American plaice. In 2003, taking advantage of the new fishing facilities of R/V Vizconde de Eza, the survey increased the area surveyed to complete the 34 layers up to 1460 m deep, in order to better cover the range of Greenland halibut, the species of main commercial interest for Spanish fleet at the time. The calibration of the catch of the R/V Saavedra Cornide against R/V Vizconde de Eza was made from 111 catches in parallel of the two ships during the surveys of 2003 and 2004, and enabled the standardization of estimates of abundance throughout the series.

The results of the survey are presented systematically in the NAFO Scientific Council following the year of realization. Also available the results from the Flemish Cap Symposium 2004 (Halifax).


Leave a Reply