10 years ago
From the Jan. 29, 2009 edition
Evidence hints at the beginning of a recovery of the northern cod stocks
Hedley Butler figured it was going to be all doom and gloom.
However, a meeting with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) managers and scientists in Clarenville in December gave the Bonavista fisherman reason to be optimistic.
“Even the scientists are saying that the cod biomass is increasing. It seems like they’re on our side,” he says.
Len Knight, DFO’s regional manager for Newfoundland and Labrador, says meetings were held in Blaketown and Clarenville.
It was a chance for DFO to give fishers from the 3L zone information on the results of the stewardship fishery, and to provide an opportunity for fishers and scientist to share data and everyday evidence on cod.
A fish processor was also at the meeting to talk about the importance of quality and his success in marketing cod fillets to the ‘white tablecloth’ market — upscale restaurants — in Europe.
Last year each commercial fishing license holder was given a 3,250 pound quota of cod — a 750-pound increase for the previous year.
“It’s an extra bit of information in conjunction with the sentinel cod fishery program,” explains Knight. “When the previous minister announced the stewardship fishery he said it was to allow fishers to ‘test their belief’ in the health of the resource.
“It gave them an opportunity to... get on the water, put a few nets out, catch a bit of fish and provide information to the department.”
The meetings gave everyone — fishers and DFO— a chance to hash out the evidence from this summer’s fishery.
Knight says there’s no dispute that Bonavista and Trinity Bay have long been the bright spot for cod on the northeast coast.
Scientist Dr. George Rose, after hearing anecdotal evidence from local fishermen, discovered an abundant biomass of cod in Smith’s Sound, Trinity Bay, in 1996. Since then, fisherman from Bonavista and Trinity Bays have been seeing things on the water that convince them the card are doing all right in these areas.
“Fisherman in Trinity and Bonavista Bays have no trouble catching their quotas. They see the resource as being good in their area,” Knight acknowledges.
He adds that all along the northeast coast, there seems to be better signs of cod and a catch rate are improving.
“To add to the positive picture, in 2006 science branch started to see concentrations of cod offshore... near the Bonavista corridor and off Southern Labrador.
“They have seen an improving trend in those are shore areas and they’re seeing improvement regarding mortality of older card,” he adds.
The turbot test fishery in 3L is also confirming that information, added Knight.
That fishery ranges from 25 miles off Cape Bonavista to 150 miles offshore, in three fishing zones.
“In 2007 we had 80-odd boats involved in that test fishery. We went from about two per cent cod bycatch in 2006, to 18 per cent in 2007 and this past fall it was up to 20 per cent.
“So for cod it’s good; it’s supporting what science is seeing as well.”
Beyond Trinity and Bonavista Bays, however, the signs of cod recovery are not as evident.
Knight says on the Southern Shore only 34 per cent of license holders participated in the fishery this past summer.
He says those fishermen had good days and bad days of fishing.
“There were days when they did well and there were days when they went out and had trouble hooking a few fish.”
That presents a bit of a dilemma for fish managers, and the minister, when it comes down to making a decision on quotas.
While one area might be able to sustain a slight increase, there has to be a consideration for areas where the cod stock does not appear to be doing so well.
Using information on cod bycatch in the turbot fishery, reports from the recent stewardship fishery and the data from their own offshore trawl surveys, DFO scientists are now preparing their annual report on the status of the northern cod stock. The reports are currently going through the peer review process, in preparation for their final public release in March.
While the final report is not out, Hadley butler expects it will be a good news story for those who have been watching and waiting for signs of a recovery since the moratorium on cod fishing was declared in 1992.
He admits there is some debate among fishers on how much their individual quotas should be increased. At the Clarenville meeting, suggestions ranged from an increase of a couple thousand pounds, to as much as 20,000 pounds for each license holder.
According to Butler the general consensus appears to caution against too much, too fast.
There is mutual agreement on one thing, however, that the latest evidence that points to a growing cod stock will lead to a little more fish to catch for each license holder this coming summer.