The federal government cut the herring quota off southwestern Nova Scotia and New Brunswick by one-third Tuesday, citing a need to protect the depleted forage fish.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) reduced the 2022 quota, or total allowable catch (TAC), from 35,000 tonnes to 23,450 tonnes, but environmentalists say the cut does not go far enough to rebuild the stock.
The Bay of Fundy Herring Industry said the TAC for this year "will create challenges for industry, but is at a level that will help protect jobs, businesses and communities in the region that rely on the fishery."
DFO echoed industry in its announcement, saying its decision was a balance.
"This decision reduces pressure on this stock, while recognizing the needs of communities that depend on this fishery for jobs and bait," the quota announcement stated.
The area's herring fishery is valued at $140 million a year and supports 1,000 direct and indirect jobs between both provinces.
Herring stock in critical zone
Most of the quota is caught by seiners — boats that use big nets to circle a school of herring as it comes to the surface.
The herring stock that feeds the fishery has been in the critical zone, where serious harm is occurring, for several years.
Sebastian Pardo, a scientist with the Halifax-based environmental group Ecology Action Centre, says a 66 per cent cut was needed.
"Any type of reduction for a species in the critical zone is a positive step. But it is not sufficient for a rebuilding, based on the best available science that's been done," Pardo said.
DFO has spent several years developing a new modelling process for this herring fishery called management strategy evaluation. It produces a range of quota recommendations for a stock.
Pardo said in this case, the process recommended a larger cut.
'It's really disappointing'
"To me, this signals that they're not serious in implementing the findings from the management strategy evaluation," he said.
Katie Schleit, a senior fisheries advisor with the charitable organization Oceans North, agreed.
"It's really disappointing that DFO had the opportunity this year to set the stock on a path towards recovery within 10 years, and they chose to squander that opportunity," she said.
"So we're worried that they're setting the stock up for another shut down, and that didn't have to be."
Reaction from the big companies involved in the fishery was more muted than might be expected when they are taking a 33 per cent quota cut.
But before the decision was announced the industry had proposed a 10,000 tonnes quota cut from 35,000 to 25,000 tonnes.
Number close to industry's recommendation
The final number is close to the industry's recommendation.
Their industry association had also asked DFO to pause management strategy evaluation, claiming the process was flawed.
"The minister's decision is difficult, but we appreciate her commitment to a science-based process. The TAC for this year falls within the precautionary approach guidelines and will provide some stability for our operators for this fishing season," said Ian McIsaac, president of the Seafood Producers Association of Nova Scotia.
"Despite these cuts, industry is fully committed to maintaining scientific observation of the resource and to the long-term sustainability of the resource."
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