Cod fish populations in Canada have declined by up to 99 percent since the 1960s, and should get protection as an endangered species, according to an environmental group in Canada.

The study researchers examined Atlantic cod fisheries from the Arctic to the Bay of Fundy, and determined the species is overdue for an "endangered species" listing.

"It’s old news that cod are in trouble. It’s been 18 years since the collapse of northern cod stocks," said Dr. Jeffrey Hutchings, Dalhousie University professor and former chair of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), a gathering of experts that assesses and designates which wildlife species are in some danger of disappearing from Canada.

In 1992, the Canadian Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans closed down cod fishing in Newfoundland and the Great Banks after scientists reported that nearly none existed there anymore.

About "35,000-40,000 were put out of work because of the fishing moratorium imposed on the Canadian Atlantic cod fisheries. The Commission of Environmental Cooperation in Montreal estimated (in 2001) that 2 to 3 billion dollars had been spent in various financial aid packages as a consequence," Hutchings told Livescience.

According to Hutchings, the new report’s results surpass even this benchmark. "Cod are at such historically low levels that they have gone beyond their tipping point," Hutchings said. "They may no longer be able to replace themselves in their ecosystem." 

Researchers hope the new report will lead the federal government of Canada to accept the endangered status of cod fish and assume all of the corresponding legal and protective responsibilities.

COSEWIC has applied escalating levels of risk to its assessments of Atlantic cod fish populations in Canada ever since it first labeled them "a species of special concern" in 1998. But even in 2003, the Canada's Department of the Environment rejected the May recommendation to include cod fish on the "endangered species" list, citing "socio-economic" concerns.

Hutchings is quick to point out that the study’s results do not spell out impending extinction of the species. "I do not believe that Atlantic cod will become extinct. They may be endangered in some northern European waters, such as West of Scotland cod stock, but in others, such as the Barents Sea, they are doing very well," he said.