Return to the Wild - Evolving perspectives on Canadian wildlife

Lesson plan: Cod in the Balance: Conservation of the Atlantic cod species and its ecosystem


Grade Level:

Grades 6-8, adaptable for 9-12

Time Required:

1-2 classes


Atlantic cod is a species under stress at present.  The primary cause of the decline in population is over-fishing, but environmental factors such as water temperature and predators also play roles. Knowledge of the characteristics of the Atlantic cod - its habitat, food sources, life cycle, and growth rate - help in understanding the impacts that fishing and changing environment have on the species.

Main Objective

Interactions among human activity, environmental change, and other species determine the health of a fish population. By determining the varying factors impacting the Atlantic cod population and, by extension, the effects on the economies of scale at all levels, students will research, construct an understanding, and develop an appreciation for sustainability as represented by the complex web of connections affecting this species and others.

Curriculum Connection

Atlantic Provinces Curriculum for Social Studies: Council of Atlantic Ministers of Education and Training (CAMET)

Learning Outcomes

People, Places and Environment

Students will be expected to demonstrate an understanding of the interactions among people, places and the environment.


Students will be expected to demonstrate an understanding of the interdependent relationships among individuals, societies, and the environment – locally, nationally and globally.

Individuals, Societies, and Economic Decisions

Students will be expected to demonstrate the ability to make responsible economic decisions as individuals and members of society.




To ensure that students understand key terminology, ask the following questions:

  1. What is one of the main species of fish in the Atlantic region?
  2. How long has cod been fished in the Atlantic region by humans?
  3. When did commercial fishing begin?
  4. What does “endangered” mean?
  5. Can you name some species that are endangered?
  6. What is COSEWIC?
  7. Who serves on the group?
  8. What factors does it consider in making its decisions?
  9. Why might some people object to decisions of COSEWIC?
  10. What is the Atlantic cod listed as by COSEWIC?
  11. If Atlantic cod were listed as a “Species at Risk”, what would be the results?

Explain that in order to understand this species and why it would be classified as “endangered” and potentially “a species at risk”, research needs to be conducted.

Lesson Development

Reassemble students in groups, assign roles within the group, and explain that instructions for each specific group are on each numbered Student Information Sheet.

Distribute copies of:

  1. Student Information Sheets to corresponding groups
  2. Copies of “Figure 1 and 2” (both attached)-one for each student

Note:Groups 2 and 6 will also need a blank outline map of Eastern Canada/North America


Reassemble into whole class. Request groups to report on their findings.

Lead class to reach conclusions based on their research and compile a list using available media.
Develop a concluding discussion by asking:

  • Although human over-fishing is the main factor, are there other natural factors that are significant contributors?
  • What do you think should be done to ensure that the Atlantic cod recover?

Conduct a vote based on the following question:
“What do you predict the Atlantic cod designation will become under SARA (Species at Risk Act): “endangered or species at risk” in 20 years time?”

Reassemble into whole class. Request groups to report on their findings.

Lead class to reach following conclusions based on their research and compile a list using available media.



Answer introductory questions.

Discuss rationale for the formation and mandate of COSEWIC.

Recount what they already know about why the Atlantic cod might be “endangered”.

Lesson Development

Divide into groups and research the following topics:

Group 1: Characteristics
Group 2: Habitat
Group 3: Food
Group 4: Life Cycle
Group 5: Growth Rate
Group 6: Fishing

Conduct research using suggested resources, information sheets, and maps.


Reporter from each group explains what the group task was and what they have learned.

Offer conclusions such as the following:

  • Atlantic cod numbers are low due primarily to over-fishing
  • Atlantic cod in many areas have shown virtually no signs of recovery
  • Natural changes in the ecosystem have occurred
  • Predators contributing to keeping the population low

Class conducts and tallies votes.

Explain why they voted as they did.

Compile an information diorama with suggestions for action.

Lesson Extension

How does the history of Atlantic cod as a “species at risk” compare with the other species you have studied?

What do you think should be done to help the Atlantic cod recover?

Research the history of the Atlantic cod fishery in Canada.

Compare the status of the Atlantic cod in Canada with its status in the waters adjacent to other North Atlantic countries.

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