DFO should listen to harvesters during tough time for fishery: Crocker

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Audit of N.L. Fisheries and Land Resources underway, RCMP contacted

Not all Newfoundland and Labrador fish harvesters are witnessing such a dramatic decline in shellfish stocks, according to provincial Fisheries Minister Steve Crocker, who said the federal government should listen to local fishermen when deciding upcoming quotas.

Local fish harvesters are seeing catch rates that don't match up with the analysis produced by DFO scientists, according to Crocker.

That analysis showed major declines in shrimp and snow crab biomass, and hinted at a dire situation for fish harvesters who rely on those stocks to make a living.

"In some cases, what we're seeing, catch rates are not reflecting what that science is," Crocker told CBC Radio's The Broadcast Wednesday.

"DFO science is important, but when it comes to science, we need to make sure that harvesters are being listened to." 

Crocker said he would be speaking to federal Fisheries Minister Dominic Leblanc this week, and would urge him to listen to local fish harvesters.

Meetings are being held across Newfoundland and Labrador in March ahead of decisions on possible quota changes to each species.

The provincial minister said there are challenges to fishermen across the province, especially those who operate in the 3PS cod fishery zone.

Crocker called the situation there "absolutely devastating."

Meanwhile, he said the newly-announced $100 million fisheries fund from the federal government would help some fishermen during this difficult time.

However, despite the expectation by Premier Dwight Ball that a larger groundfishery is returning to the province, one DFO scientist says there's still quite a ways to go before cod stocks are back at a level where they can be commercially harvested.

"I don't think that you're going to see cod coming up very quickly," said Pierre Pepin. "Populations don't double in no time, right? So you have a tendency of requiring a fair bit of time."

Pepin agreed that the decline in shellfish stocks was a "double hit" for fish harvesters who have yet to see the return of cod since its collapse.

"That's unfortunately the reality of a system where you have relatively few species to harvest," he said.

"If you're harvesting at levels where you are always pushing the stocks to the limit of their production capacity, then you're going to run into problems."