FOGO ISLAND, NL – The third time was the charm for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) session with fishermen on Fogo Island.
The meeting was cancelled twice because of weather and department members being unable to attend.
The meeting finally went ahead on Feb. 13 with approximately 30 area fishermen in attendance.
When talking about concerns in the fishery, they held nothing back – which is exactly what Ron Burton, area director for DFO, was looking for.
It was session 12 of a provincewide DFO tour to identify areas where the department can improve.
“Eighty to 90 per cent of what we’ve been hearing has been pretty similar,” Burton said. “But each area has its own unique challenges and issues.”
The main topics were regulations preventing cod harvesters from working more than one license per boat, and introduction of a marine protected area (MPA) on a popular fishing ground.
An issue on every agenda of the provincewide tour was the buddy-up system for cod fishers.
As it currently stands, license holders aren’t allowed to partner with another license holder to fish a cod quota.
By the time expenses related to fishery have been taken care of, fishermen suggest profit margins are extremely thin. By partnering with another harvester, they say they could cut expenses in half, making the fishery a little more lucrative.
Furthermore, having another person on a vessel is safer.
While Burton wasn’t taking a side on the matter, he shared similar sentiments from across the province. The pros were the same as listed by the Fogo Island fishers.
However, one con of a buddy-up system was that it could give inactive fishers an opportunity to enter the fishery by availing of an active harvester’s resources.
With a weekly quota limit in place, Burton said the more active the license, the smaller the individual quota for the set weekly limit.
“The piece of the pie becomes smaller,” he said.
According to department stats, there are 2,200 license holders capable of fishing cod, and approximately 1,700 are considered active.
Twillingate fishermen Richard Gillett said there are numerous factors to consider when looking at fishery participation, with price being one.
“Cod price goes up – every one of those licenses becomes active,” said Gillett.
“It should never be the opposition or the ‘con’ for buddying up.”
While Burton said the topic has received mixed reaction across the province, it wasn’t the case on Fogo Island.
Through a showing of hands, every fisherman in the room wanted to see a buddy-up system established for cod.
A MPA known as Funk Island Deep was implemented without consultation with fishermen last year. This area is approximately 25 miles off Fogo Island and overlaps a significant portion of Notre Dame Bay Channel and a portion of the Fogo Shelf.
While crab pots may be set in this area, the MPA prohibits the use of bottom trawl, gillnet and longline for other species. In 2017, the Government of Canada had reached 7.75 per cent of its 10 per cent commitment to have marine and coastal areas protected by 2020.
Fisherman Glen Best pointed out that oil and gas exploration is ramping up in this area.
These exploration grounds don’t contribute to MPAs, according to Best, and he’s fearful it will result in more lost fishing grounds for fishermen.
“This is a marine protected area, but oil companies can go in and carry out seismic exploration and drilling,” he said. “It was done under the guise of protecting cod, but really it’s about one thing, pushing the fishermen out.”