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Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence cod could be extinct by mid-century: report

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There is a high probability that Atlantic cod will be locally extinct in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence by mid-century — even with no commercial fishing, according to a new report.

The paper, published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, says the death rate now stands at 50 per cent for adult Gulf cod five years and older. 

The likely culprit? Grey seals.

“That high a natural mortality is not sustainable,” says Doug Swain, a federal Fisheries Department scientist who co-authored the study.

Why recovery has failed for cod 

Swain says this stock is particularly vulnerable because it tends to gather in the same places every year.

That includes predictable patterns of migration, spawning and overwintering in dense congregations off Cape Breton in numbers still large enough to attract grey seals that eat them.

Samples showed adult cod made up a large part of the grey seal diet in the overwintering area off St. Paul’s Island, Cape Breton.

Swain and other researchers used models to predict what that could mean for the future of this cod population.

“In these projections, if we assume natural mortality were to stay where it is now and there was no fishing, then cod would be gone by middle of the century,” he says.

“There is nothing to say it will stay where it is but if it is due to predation by grey seals and they continue to prey on cod like they are now, then there is no way this population recovers and it may decline to negligible levels.”

The research found grey seals are likely responsible for an unsustainable rate of mortality among adult cod in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. The seals pictured here belong to the Sable Island herd. (Sarah Medill/University of Saskatchewan)

Swain, who is based at DFO’s Gulf Fisheries Centre in Moncton, N.B., has spent years looking at why the southern Gulf cod population has not recovered since the epic groundfish collapse in Eastern Canada in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

Not only did the stock not rebuild, the natural death rate increased to unprecedented levels.

Researchers looked at 10 hypotheses for an explanation, including fish health, environmental conditions, unreported fishing and the possibility cod simply left the area.

“Since the late ’90s none of the other hypotheses really had support except for the possibility the high natural mortality is due to predation by grey seals,” says Swain.

Grey seal population growth

The Gulf grey seal population grew to 100,000 in 2014 from about 8,000 in 1960. In summer, they gather everywhere from Nova Scotia’s Pictou Island to the Magdalen Islands of Quebec.

The Sable Island population has also increased dramatically. That herd is now estimated at 400,000 individuals.

The eastern Scotian Shelf cod population near Sable Island also has not recovered and adults have an even higher death rate, though the report does not directly link their mortality with seals.

‘They won’t always bounce back’

Dalhousie University biologist Jeff Hutchings says the downward spiral facing Gulf cod is a good example of what can happen to an overfished species.

“When we deplete fish stocks to very low levels, they won’t always bounce back or rebuild if we stop fishing them.”

Swain agrees. He says society will have to decide whether to intervene to reduce seal numbers or accept that Gulf cod will not recover.

“The ecosystem isn’t going to change if we leave it like it is now. If nature is allowed to run its course, it’s not going to return to the balanced level it was 150 years ago.”

But Hutchings says even a seal cull would not guarantee a cod comeback.

“Many species are feeding upon one another, competing with one another, interacting with one another,” he says. 

“And we simply don’t have enough information to draw any scientifically legitimate and defensible conclusions about what a cull of grey seals would do to cod.”

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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