Canada, U.S. agree to slash Georges Bank haddock quota by 45%

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Canada and the United States have agreed to a large quota cut for the haddock stock that straddles their shared fishing grounds on Georges Bank south of Nova Scotia.

Harvesters and processing plants in southern Nova Scotia are looking at a 45 per cent reduction in the total allowable catch for 2021.

The quota on the Canadian side of Georges Bank is set at 7,614 tonnes this year. That's down from 13,800 tonnes in 2020 and down by more than two-thirds since 2018, when the Canadian quota was 24,400 tonnes.

The stock is managed by a trans-boundary committee. Government scientists and industry representatives from both countries provide advice.

Committee records from 2019 and 2020 show the Georges Bank haddock population is still healthy, but on the decline as the "extraordinarily strong" population hatched in 2013 is caught or dies off.

Assessment model cast aside

Complicating all of this is the failure of the scientific model that was used to estimate the population and fishing mortality, as well as make quotas. The model was found to have grossly overestimated the stock and in 2019, was thrown overboard by managers from both countries.

"In 2019, the trans-boundary resources assessment committee agreed that the assessment model is not able to provide reliable advice on current abundance nor is it able to provide reliable advice for catch due," a 2019 assessment stated.

"Due to the lack of an assessment model, an estimate of fishing mortality rate can no longer be calculated. There are no analytical projections to characterize risk for catches in 2020 and 2021."

To come up with some kind of assessment, managers used historical survey data from a previous big year class to try to predict what may be happening to the 2013 population.

COVID-19 curtailed or cancelled scientific surveys on Georges Bank in 2020.

"We have no analytical model on haddock, had no U.S. surveys, along with significant uncertainty in the single DFO survey point. We were also missing some aging work," Alain d'Entremont, a Canadian industry representative on the committee, told CBC News.

Working on better assessment methods

Minutes from the committee's virtual meeting last September shows advice varied for the combined quota.

"Building on last year's approach, in 2020 TRAC [the committee] continued to monitor the change in the previously observed strong year class to adjust the quota advice for 2021, resulting in a range of 2,635 — 14,117 metric tonnes."

Both Canada and the United States are working on a more accurate assessment tool they hope to have ready to develop the 2022 quota.

Canada and the United States have agreed to shares of three commercial fish species that straddle Georges Bank — cod, haddock and yellowtail flounder.

Allocations for fishing year 2021 are:

  • 30 per cent U.S., 70 per cent Canada for cod.

  • 46 per cent U.S., 54 per cent Canada for haddock.

  • 64 per cent U.S., 36 per cent Canada for yellowtail flounder.

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