Canada and the United States have, for the first time, failed to agree on a shared quota for the transboundary haddock stock on the Georges Bank fishing grounds off southern Nova Scotia.
The two countries have jointly managed the haddock fishery — and two other straddling stocks — since 2000, but were unable to reach a consensus for the 2023 haddock quota.
"While Canada and the U.S. tried to negotiate a shared haddock total allowable catch … our countries will be setting our own total allowable catch independently of the other," wrote Kathy Cooper-MacDonald, senior advisor, Fisheries Management in Maritimes Region on Dec. 28.
The disagreement centred on the size of the quota cut.
"Everybody agreed that a large reduction was required, but the size of large is not defined," said Alain d'Entremont, president of Scotia Harvest, operator of a groundfish fleet and processing plant in southwestern Nova Scotia.
He is a Canadian industry representative and co-chair of the Transboundary Management Guidance Committee, which helps negotiate quotas.
"I don't think we've caused irreparable damage to the agreement."
What each side wanted
The quota has been steadily declining as the massive number of haddock hatched in 2013 died off or was caught.
Canada proposed an overall 4,000-tonne quota shared between the countries, a 71 per cent cut from 2022.
The U.S. refused to go above 3,619 tonnes.
d'Entremont said there were different interpretations of the science.
"What we're seeing now is … some signs that the stock might be returning to more traditional growth patterns and productivity which is positive," d'Entremont said from the Scotia Harvest plant, outside Digby, N.S.
"There's still a bit of divergence in terms of how quickly the stock productivity is changing."
U.S. does not accept Canadian "optimism"
The American position was posted in November..
"The U.S. does not support the logic for optimism with the Eastern Georges Bank haddock stock, and is concerned about its observed decline through 2021. Until projected improvements are realized, the U.S. believes fishing mortality rates should be reduced consistent with the Transboundary Management Guidance Committee harvest strategy to promote rebuilding."
What is at stake for Canada
In 2021, the haddock fishery on the Canadian side of Georges Bank had a wharf value of more than $12 million on 6,997 tonnes.
The fishery employs hundreds of people on the water and in fish plants in southwestern Nova Scotia.
U.S. landings from the transboundary stock were around 500 tonnes in 2021 but its catch in the western part of Georges Bank off Massachusetts is reduced if the Canadian quota is higher.
What Canada decided
In the end Canada stuck with its number and set its quota at 2,320 tonnes in 2023, based on an allocation formula that sees catch split 58 per cent to Canada and 42 per cent to the U.S..
Both sides will resume negotiations later in the year with a new scientific stock assessment.
"I don't think that this is a relationship that's poisoned or anything like that,' said d'Entremont.
When Fisheries and Oceans Canada released the 2023 haddock quota last week, it expressed similar hopes.
"Canada looks forward to next year's stock assessment and we will continue efforts to come to an agreement with our American partners, whenever possible, regarding total allowable catch advice for our shared stocks," Fishieries and Oceans Canada manager Kathy Cooper-MacDonald told industry on Dec. 28.
The department did not respond to questions from CBC News.
The New England Fisheries Management Council — a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — did not provide comment either.
Impasse only once before on yellowtail flounder
The other two Georges Bank stocks jointly managed are cod and yellowtail flounder, a flatfish.
The transboundary process is made up of government and industry representatives from both countries and has been very successful.
It failed to reach agreement only once before — in 2009 for the 2010 shared quota for yellowtail flounder.
"The inability to reach consensus threatens the future of the co-operative management through the Transboundary Management Guidance Committee MGC process," the committee reported in 2009.
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