Tuna fishermen in Atlantic Canada will be allowed to catch small amounts of mackerel for bait this year after all.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) issued a notice to harvesters late Thursday that tuna fishermen will be allowed to catch up to 20 mackerel per day to use as live bait.
It is a tiny exemption to the moratorium on all commercial mackerel fishing imposed this year to protect the depleted stock.
The 20 fish per day was requested by industry representatives, who argued the live bait was critical to charters and commercial tuna fishing which use rod and reel.
It is the same number allowed for recreational anglers.
"This is great news. We're relieved the DFO has come to this decision," says fisherman Chandra Gavin of Giant Bluefin Tuna Charters in Ballantyne's Cove, N.S.
'...it's the right thing to do'
She's one of Nova Scotia's 135 commercial tuna fishermen in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
"We feel that it's the right thing to do and we don't feel that this small amount of use will put the stock in any jeopardy," Gavin told CBC News Thursday night.
Based on an average of total yearly trips for all directed bluefin fleets — not just those in Gulf of St. Lawrence — the department estimates total amount of mackerel usage would be approximately 20 tonnes.
That represents a fraction of one per cent of last year's quota of 8,000 tonnes.
In its notice to harvesters, DFO said the 20-per-day limit will apply to all tuna rod and reel or tended line license holders. It will be added as a license condition.
"The Department will be working with the fleets over the course of the season to identify alternative bait sources and/or baiting methods to ensure the viability of this fishery into the future," the notice stated.
DFO minister's office weighs in
In a statement to CBC Thursday night, the office of Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray emphasized the small amount of mackerel involved in the exemption.
"This decision is not expected to impact the recovery of mackerel. To minimise the impact on mackerel stocks any fish not used as bait must be released back into the ocean at the end of each trip," press secretary Claire Teichman said.
"Live mackerel are the only viable option for the tuna fishery, and this decision ensures the viability of Canada's bluefin tuna fishery — an industry worth more than $10 million a year to the fishery and tourism sectors."
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