Groundfish council won't support federal cod stock program, calls for further discussions

·3 min read
SubC Imaging
SubC Imaging

The Newfoundland and Labrador Groundfish Industry Development Council says it can't support the federal government's recently announced cod stock rebuilding plan, saying it's overly restrictive and will not enable the industry to rebuild as the cod stock rebuilds.

Jim Baird, chair of the NL-GIDC, says the group was completely surprised by the announcement, which came just days before Christmas.

Baird said the fishing industry was in talks with the DFO about a cod recovery plan in the spring of 2018 and there wasn't a consensus on a way forward.

"And then nothing at all, practically, until the announcement on the Dec. 21. So that was kind of a shock to the system for many of us," Baird told CBC Radio's The Broadcast.

Baird said the rebuilding plan rightfully identifies the main issue surrounding stock rebuilding to be natural mortality, but the plan is to push fishing mortality even lower than current levels, which means harvest levels will not keep pace with stock rebuilding and add further stress to a rebuilding industry.

Baird wants to see further surveys done based around the impact of seals and capelin stocks, adding the entire plan appears to be based around limiting the catch for harvesters and not other sources which could be impeding the development of cod stocks.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

"They briefly touched on seals. They didn't say much about that at all actually. They talked about capelin a little bit in the plan, but they didn't make any reference to new scientific information or even developing any," he said.

"The rebuilding plan has to be more of a complete document that has science considerations, research recommendations, economic discussion, talk about coastal communities and the reliance on the fishery."

Baird said that while his group can't support the plan, he'd like to continue having meetings to discuss it.

Minister open to further discussions

Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan says it's important to note that the cod stock rebuilding plan doesn't mean harvesters can't fish, but the idea is to have both an economic benefit while rebuilding a long-term cod stock.

"The bio-mass needs to get to a specific level before we can increase fishing effort. Right now we can continue to fish, but as the bio-mass grows we need to make sure that it gets to a certain level before we can increase that effort," Jordan said.

When asked about further studying the province's capelin stocks, Jordan said her department is going to continue to work with DFO to make sure they have the "best available information" when making rebuilding plans.

As for further consultation with fishery groups, Jordan said the plan is not etched in stone.

"It is an evergreen plan, we'll continue to monitor it, we'll continue to have discussions," she said.

"But we knew how important it was to move forward with a plan, and that's one of the reasons why this rebuilding plan had to be done as quickly as it was."

Ghost gear clean up

Meanwhile, the federal government's ghost gear fund — used to clean up abandoned fishing gear in the ocean — cleaned up 63 tons of abandoned gear on the Atlantic coast in 2020.

"It was everything from traps, pots, rope to all of the things left behind from storms," Jordan said. "But for me it wasn't just about getting it out of the ocean, it was making sure that this didn't end up in the landfill."

A number of projects under the fund recycled ocean waste, turning some into bio-diesel and patio furniture.

About 80 per cent of the cleaned up gear came from the Bay of Fundy, 14 per cent from the Gulf of St. Lawrence, while six per cent came from waters off of Newfoundland and Labrador.

"It's an extremely important program that we would like to see expand," Jordan said.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador