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FFAW wants mackerel fishery re-opened

Courtney Glode is the Communications Officer with FFAW. – Submitted photo

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

PORT AUX BASQUES — On Thursday, Mar. 30, 2022, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) issued a release announcing there would be no directed commercial or bait fishing for southern Gulf spring herring and the closure of the Atlantic mackerel commercial and bait fisheries in Atlantic Canada and Quebec. DFO discussed the decision at length, stating the measures they had implemented in an attempt to rebuild both fish stocks had been unsuccessful. “During the past several years, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has put many management measures in place to help rebuild these two stocks:

  1. For southern Gulf spring herring, Fisheries and Oceans Canada implemented daily catch limits, minimum mesh (hole) size in nets, limits on overall size and number of nets, dockside monitoring of catches and weekend fishing closures.

  2. For Atlantic mackerel, Fisheries and Oceans Canada implemented catch reductions over time, an increase to the minimum allowable size, and reporting improvements. In addition, new regulatory amendments came into force in 2021 that set a daily possession limit of 20 mackerel per person when fishing recreationally, established a minimum possession size of 26.8 cm, and closed the recreational fishery from January 1 to March 31 every year. Unfortunately, these measures have not been enough. Under Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Precautionary Approach Framework, when a commercially-fished stock is in the critical zone, removals from all sources must be kept to the lowest possible levels. Reduced fishing pressure may help these stocks to mature, reproduce and rebuild.” DFO added that Atlantic mackerel has been in a critical state for more than 10 years and, according to a stock assessment in 2021, younger fish are being caught, making it impossible for them to grow and spawn to assist in the building of a healthy population. Now in 2023, Fish, Food, & Allied Workers (FFAW) is calling on the government to reopen the Atlantic mackerel fishery, stating that Newfoundland and Labrador communities shouldn’t bear the burden of this decision. “The biggest problem is that the fishery was closed when it should not have been,” said Courtney Glode, Communications Officer with FFAW. “The problem here is not that we are anti-science or that we are going against science, what we are saying is that enough science is not being done and the science that has been done is not adequately estimating the biomass of the stock.” According to the DFO’s Atlantic mackerel information updated in 2022, the mackerel stock is assessed bi-annually using a censored catch-at-age model. Using this model means DFO is able to provide estimates on reference points, spawning stock biomass (SSB) and exploitation rate. The information states that the main factors hindering the recovery of the northern contingent are a low SSB and high fishing mortality from the commercial, bait and recreational fisheries in both Canada and the U.S.A. DFO estimated that the exploitation rate in 2020 of fully selected (5-10+ years) mackerel was at 74 per cent, above the reference level of 51 per cent. However, as of 2022, the fishery is concentrated on fish aged 2-5 with an exploitation rate of 56 per cent, barely above the reference level. FFAW isn’t disputing the science. They are saying things have changed within the mackerel fishery that need to be taken into account and researched as well. “Based on what harvesters have been seeing for the last 10 years and what we’ve been reporting for the last 10 years to DFO, is that the spawning patterns have changed. DFO believes that mackerel spawn in one area in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but based on observations that have been reported over the last 10 years, the evidence suggests that DFO is looking at the wrong area basically, for spawning, and as a result the biomass is being underestimated,” said Glode. “We don’t have an estimation of the biomass, but what we do know is DFO’s estimate is not lining up with what people are seeing. So, we’ve asked for additional surveys, we’ve asked to work with DFO to do collaborative survey opportunities to better understand what’s happening around the province,” said Glode. “Unfortunately, that hasn’t been done and the minister’s response has been to close the fishery rather than do more work, do the work that’s needed.” The Atlantic Mackerel Advisory Meeting took place in Halifax, Nova Scotia in Feb. 2023, and at that meeting, which was attended by numerous industry members, government officials, and environmental groups, the federal assessment provided said the stock continues to remain in the critical zone and now, the percentage of mackerel reaching spawning age is only 27 per cent, one of the reasons for the controversial decision to shut down the fishery. “It eliminated hundreds of people from the fishery. We estimate that there‘s approximately 700 and up to 1,000 enterprise owners and crew members who participate in the Atlantic mackerel fishery, so they lost that fishery last year entirely with nothing to replace it,” said Glode. “Plant workers who process mackerel, there are 12 plants who process in the province that have pelagic licenses which include herring, capelin, and mackerel, so these plant workers also lost out on that work as well.” While no announcement has been made signaling the reopening of the Atlantic mackerel fishery, that is the direction FFAW wants the government to go. “Our hope is the necessary information will get across to the government and the fishery will be reopened this year, even if it’s just an index fishery or a stewardship fishery, to allow the inshore to still maintain that connection to the fishery but work on additional science. But harvesters need to get back into this fishery.” The U.S.A. announced in March that they will proceed with the commercial fishery in 2023, on the East Coast stock shared with Canada; however, an announcement on whether or not the moratorium will be lifted in Canada has not yet been made.

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