Species Profile

Cusk

Scientific Name: Brosme brosme
Taxonomy Group: Fishes
Range: Atlantic Ocean
Last COSEWIC Assessment: November 2012
Last COSEWIC Designation: Endangered
SARA Status: No schedule, No Status

Individuals of this species may be protected under Schedule 1 under another name; for more information see Schedule 1, the A-Z Species List, or if applicable, the Related Species table below.


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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Cusk

Cusk Photo 1

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Description

The Cusk is a sedentary, slow moving, slim-bodied, cod-like fish of the western Atlantic Ocean. It is the only member of the cod family that has both a single barbel under the chin and one continuous dorsal fin. It has a rounded tail fin, small pelvic fins with four to five rays, and rounded, brush-like pectoral fins. All fins are thick and fleshy at the base. The Cusk’s colouring varies from light grey with a brown tint, with pale sides and a greyish-white belly in the northeast Atlantic, to dark reddish- or greenish-brown, or sometimes a lighter brown, with a cream or white belly in the western Atlantic. The adult reaches a maximum length of greater than 100 cm, and lives about 20 years. Eggs are buoyant and hatch larvae of 4 mm, which remain in the water column before settling to the bottom when they reach lengths of about 50 to 60 mm. Fifty percent of adults reach sexual maturity between five and six years of age (about 50 cm in length).

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Distribution and Population

The Cusk is a northern species found in the Subarctic and boreal shelf waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. Its centre of abundance in the western Atlantic is between 41 and 440 N latitude, in the Gulf of Maine and the southern Scotian Shelf off southwest Nova Scotia, extending from the Fundian Channel and Browns Bank to Emerald, Western and Sable island banks. It occurs only rarely in the deep waters along the edge of the continental shelf off Newfoundland and Labrador. The Cusk has a very restricted distribution compared to other members of the cod, hake, and pollock group in the western Atlantic. Cusk stocks straddle the Canada-United States boundary. In Canadian waters, Cusk populations are estimated to have declined by 95.5% for fish greater than 50 cm in length (size of 50% maturity) from 1970 to 2001. The population of fish greater than 50 cm in length on the Scotian Shelf is 314 520, a one order of magnitude decline since the 1970s.

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Habitat

The Cusk prefers rocky sea floors made up of boulders, gravel, or pebbles. It is typically found at depths of 150 to 400 m with relatively warm water temperatures of 6 to 10 oC. The fish is never found near shore or at depths less than 20 to 30 m.

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Biology

The Cusk spawns in April to July, with peak spawning in late June on the Scotian Shelf. Half of the adults reach maturity at lengths of about 50 cm, or five to six years of age. The Cusk is among the most fecund (or fertile) of fish – a mature adult of more than 60 cm can have more than one million eggs. Eggs are buoyant, and hatch larvae of 4 mm, which remain in the upper water column and settle to the bottom when they reach lengths of 50 to 60 mm. There is an estimated generation time of nine years. Cusk feed on other fish species, crustaceans, and polychaetes (marine worms). Many species take advantage of the Cusk’s slow moving habits; Spiny Dogfish, halibut, Atlantic Cod, and Hooded Seals are among its chief predators. The Cusk is sedentary and solitary, and does not form large schools. It generally remains in the same area for the duration of its life cycle.

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Threats

Over-exploitation from fishing is the greatest source of mortality for Cusk. Although there is some directed fishing, the fish is mainly taken as bycatch on longlines that target Atlantic Halibut, cod, haddock, and pollock. Overall, landings of Cusk have been declining since the late 1970s, coinciding with declining lengths and weights. It is estimated that the Scotia-Fundy region has experienced a 93% decline in Cusk populations from 1970 to 2001. The core distribution of the Cusk overlaps the Canada-United States border, and the population trends observed in both countries are similar. In the United States, most Cusk are caught in the trawl nets used by fisheries in the Gulf of Maine; there was a 60% decline in the Gulf of Maine population from 1970 to 1994. Habitat destruction is also a threat for this species.

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Protection

Federal Protection

Cusk from the Scotia-Fundy region are managed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. In 1999, bycatch limitations of 1000 tonnes per year were established for the combined landings of all fleets within the Scotia-Fundy region.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name National Recovery Strategy for the Cusk (Brosme brosme)
Status Not yet initiated

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

13 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and status report on the cusk Brosme Brosme in Canada (2003)

    Brosme Brosme (Ascanius 1772) is the only member of its genus and is one of about 20 species of cod-like fishes (Gadidae) listed for the east coast of Canada. It is commonly referred to as cusk. The combination of a single barbel and a single dorsal fin is diagnostic and identifies this member of the Gadidae to species. Brosme is treated as a single evolutionarily significant unit (ESU) in this report. No studies have been done on meristic, morphometric and genetic variation on Brosme from the western Atlantic.
  • COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Cusk Brosme brosme in Canada (2013)

    The Cusk is the only member of its genus and is one of about 20 species of cod-like (Gadiforme) fishes on the east coast of Canada. The combination of a single barbel and a single dorsal fin is diagnostic and identifies this species.

COSEWIC Assessments

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Cusk (2013)

    This species is a large, slow-growing, bottom-living fish that resides in the Gulf of Maine and Scotian Shelf, and which has been declining continuously since 1970. The mature portion of the population has declined by approximately 85% over three generations. There is also strong evidence that its area of occupancy has declined considerably. Average fish size has also declined, consistent with a decline in abundance. Limited management efforts have not been effective in halting the decline.
  • Response Statements - Cusk (2007)

    A response statement is a communications document that identifies how the Minister of the Environment intends to respond to the assessment of a wildlife species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The document provides a start to the listing and recovery process for those species identified as being at risk, and provides timelines for action to the extent possible.

Orders

  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Act (2012)

    His Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, acknowledges receipt, on the making of this Order, of the assessments done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) with respect to the species set out in the annexed schedule.
  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Act (2005) (2005)

    The Order acknowledges receipt by the Governor in Council of 12 aquatic species done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The purpose of SARA is to prevent wildlife species from being extirpated or becoming extinct, to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.
  • Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act (2013)

    This Order adds seven aquatic species to Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and reclassifies two species on Schedule 1 of SARA (Schedule 1). This Order also amends Schedule 1 by striking out one species previously listed as a single designatable unit and adding two new designatable units of the same species in its place. One designatable unit of a terrestrial species, currently also listed as part of a broader designatable unit, is struck out to eliminate duplication. These amendments are being made on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment with advice from the other competent minister, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. A related Order under section 76 of SARA will exempt activities authorized under the Fisheries Act from the prohibitions of SARA for a period of one year for one of the species being added to Schedule 1 (Westslope Cutthroat Trout).
  • Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act (2006)

    Her Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, pursuant to section 27 of the Species at Risk Act, hereby makes the annexed Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report – 2012-2013 (2013)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings in this reporting year (October, 2012 to September 2013) from November 25 to November 30, 2012 and from April 28 to May 3, 2013. During the current reporting period, COSEWIC assessed the status or reviewed the classification of 73 wildlife species. The wildlife species assessment results for the 2012-2013 reporting period include the following: Extinct: 0 Extirpated: 2 Endangered: 28 Threatened: 19 Special Concern: 19 Data Deficient: 4 Not at Risk: 1 Total: 73 Of the 73 wildlife species examined, COSEWIC reviewed the classification of 50 species that had been previously assessed. The review of classification for 26 of those species resulted in a confirmation of the same status as the previous assessment.

Consultation Documents

  • Cusk - Consultations on listing under the Species at Risk Act (2016)

    Information summary and survey for the consultations on adding the cusk to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk as Threatened – Please provide your input by March 18, 2016.
  • Legal listing consultation workbook for Cusk (Brosme brosme) (2007)

    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.
  • Species at Risk Act- Legal Listing Consultation Workbook, Cusk (Brosme brosme) (2004)

    Your opinion is being sought to assist the government of Canada in making an informed decision on whether to add the Cusk to the Schedule 1 (the List of Wildlife Species at Risk) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Your input on the impacts of adding this species to the List is important. This workbook has been developed to give you an opportunity to provide Fisheries and Oceans Canada with your feedback, advice, and other comments regarding adding this species to Schedule 1 of SARA (Schedule 1 identifies which species are legally protected under SARA).