'Not going to happen on my watch,' says Liberal MP over potential cod fishing closure

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Dozens of fish harvesters and supporters protested on the doorstep of the office of Liberal MP Churence Rogers in Clarenville on Wednesday.  (Garrett Barry/CBC - image credit)
Dozens of fish harvesters and supporters protested on the doorstep of the office of Liberal MP Churence Rogers in Clarenville on Wednesday. (Garrett Barry/CBC - image credit)

Fish harvesters rallied in Clarenville on Wednesday, voicing their frustrations and fears that the federal government may shut down the cod fishery along Newfoundland's south coast — a move the local MP says he won't support.

Dozens of members from the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union protested on the doorstep of the office of Liberal MP for Bonavista-Burin-Trinity, Churence Rogers, filling the parking lot with signs and the air with strong words about the fate of the fishing grounds 3Ps.

Fish harvester Brian Careen said he's spent most of his life fishing in the area, and told the crowd he feared it will be taken away by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

"How do they know how much cod is out there, when we never had a survey in 2020? The harvesters that's on the water, they're the crowd they should listen to, not to the God damn people that's sitting behind the desk," Careen told supporters from behind a podium.

Rogers joined in on the protest, saying it's been made "very loud and clear" to Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan that he doesn't want to see the closure.

"We don't have the information we need to make an informed decision about 3Ps cod. We don't have the science. We don't have the surveys. We don't have the comprehensive assessment that we need," Rogers said.

FFAW President Keith Sullivan told union members he is not accepting a full closure of the 3Ps cod fishery.
FFAW President Keith Sullivan told union members he is not accepting a full closure of the 3Ps cod fishery. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Rogers said it is important manage cod stocks for future generations, but it has to be done "properly." He said the cut to quotas last year was a good first step to allow stocks to grow.

"But, a complete closure, I can't accept that. Not going to happen on my watch."

Tension over stocks

The protest comes on the heels of several contentious months regarding cod stocks in Newfoundland waters.

Earlier in March, the FFAW called on federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan to reject the possible closure after a Department of Fisheries and Oceans assessment indicated potential growth in 2021 for the cod stock and that the biomass index had increased in the 3Ps fishing grounds.

The FFAW also noted at the time the DFO study found fishing mortality has been at "very low levels" due to reduced quotas in the region.

The total allowable catch in 2020 was just 2,691 tonnes, a cut from the year prior and a shade of what it was in the mid-1990s, when quotas came in around 10,000 tonnes annually.

Due to COVID-19, there was no DFO survey conducted in 2020.

Fish harvesters fear for their livelihoods, as well as the future of rural communities and businesses, says Sullivan.
Fish harvesters fear for their livelihoods, as well as the future of rural communities and businesses, says Sullivan.(Garrett Barry/CBC)

In a statement to CBC News in late March, Jordan's office maintained no decision on the fishery's future had been made, and to do so would require negotiating with France, as a small section of the stock is fished out of St. Pierre-Miquelon.

Those international meetings are getting underway, the statement said.

The FFAW withdrew from those meetings citing concerns about how its members are considered in decision-making and "vocalized similar concerns following last year's process," according to a March 23 media release.

Not accepting a closure

At Wednesday's protest, FFAW President Keith Sullivan reiterated on a point he's previously made — that the 3Ps cod fishery is important for every community and every resident along the south coast.

"If you can't feel the passion from talking to people here today, you do not have a pulse. I can certainly feel it and it's going through everybody's veins here," Sullivan said.

"It's been a part of their lives forever, and 3Ps — we're not accepting a closure of this fishery."

Sullivan has previously pointed a lot of the blame for the state of cod stocks at the seal population. He's also outlined what he sees as a ripple effect to a possible closure of the cod fishery, affecting other fisheries, rural businesses, and further rural outmigration.

"A closure would also cast doubt upon the future of a cod-only processing plant in Arnold's Cove that employs about 200 people, he has said.

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