If Portugal fluffs this opportunity, and Nafo gives in to its familiar short-termism, then the world as a whole will soon be the poorer – not least Portugal itself, which stands to lose a cultural and economic tradition dating back to the Middle Ages.John C. Crosbie was Canada’s minister of fisheries and oceans when the cod moratorium was declared in July 1992. The most significant human-induced factor preventing recovery is ‘bycatch’, meaning the unintended harvesting of non-targeted species. In 2003 this accounted for some 5,400 tonnes on the southern Grand Banks, around 90% of estimated cod stocks at the time.The situation is extremely bleak, but there is still hope: elsewhere some fish, such as Northern hake in the northeast Atlantic, have made remarkable recoveries. The September 24 meeting in Lisbon of Nafo, the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, made up of nations fishing off Canada’s east coast – may be the last chance to save the ecosystem on which the cod stocks depend.This year’s meeting will mark the first time that the Nafo contracting parties discuss a recovery plan for cod: Nafo’s track record of ensuring strong healthy fisheries is less than stellar. Stocks of Greenland halibut, capelin, redfish and cod have all declined severely on their watch.But Portugal, as both host of the meeting and as current holder of the EU presidency, is in a position to encourage key Nafo countries, notably Spain, Canada, and Russia, to adopt the modern conservation practices that are the only way to reduce bycatch.These would need to include measures such as temporarily closing areas when cod are aggregated, as during spawning, and developing ‘smart’ fishing gear designed to minimise bycatch.The vote may well tip the balance not just for the Grand Banks but further afield: Nafo is in a position to set a global example. Fisheries are in trouble globally, with more than 75% of all fish stocks now classified as either fully exploited, over-fished, or in a fragile state of recovery. If cod, or any other fish, are to be widely available, let alone affordable, in future there has to be a fundamental transformation in the way fisheries are managed. Preserved in salt for the long journey home, cod became integral to Portuguese cuisine,and for centuries no Christmas feast was complete without salt cod, or bacalhau.But the time of plenty is definitively over, and it is appropriate that Portugal could in a few days’ time play a crucial part in saving the Atlantic cod from being driven into extinction.On the Grand Banks stocks collapsed in the early 1990s, falling to around 1% of historical levels. Their failure to recover since, despite well over a decade of fishing moratoria, is because, in truth, we never really stopped fishing them.