Union calls on DFO to reopen Atlantic mackerel fishery
The Fish, Food & Allied Workers union is urging the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to reopen the Atlantic mackerel fishery this year, a fishery the union's president says has been mishandled by the federal government for years.
The FFAW and the department don't see eye to eye on the amount of the mackerel stock. While the union says mackerel is in abundance, it says the DFO is underestimating the stock's biomass.
As a result, says union president Greg Pretty, an important industry is closed, one that's crucial to a lot of towns and communities on Newfoundland's northeast coast.
"We've brought you here today to draw attention to DFO's colossal mishandling of the Atlantic mackerel fishery and the failure of DFO science to accurately estimate the mackerel biomass," said Pretty at a press conference Monday.
In March 2022, Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced there would be a closure of the Atlantic mackerel and commercial bait fisheries in Atlantic Canada and Quebec. In a press release issued Mar. 30, the department said the Atlantic mackerel stock is in the "critical zone" and that "urgent action" needed to be taken to allow the stock to recover.
Pretty says the union has been critical of the DFO's handling of the mackerel fishery for nearly a decade.
"I'm starting to feel like we're a third poor cousin of this entire confederacy," said Pretty. "Some people are now claiming it's the Environmental Ideology Department as they've been acting as of late, because decisions are being made to close fisheries not based on science, but ideology."
Underestimating mackerel biomass
The union says it has documented harvesters' observations of the prevalence of mackerel in the province, with a survey of 185 harvesters, who have an average of around 30 years' fishing experience, says Erin Carruthers, the union's science director.
She says nearly 100 of those responses said mackerel was more abundant or much more abundant than it has been in the last five years.
Robbie Green, a mackerel harvester based in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's, said he's conducted hearing surveys for the DFO every autumn for the last four years.
In November, after completing around 25 to 30 days of at-sea surveying, he said, he saw an "unprecedented" amount of mackerel.
"This is documented, it's been verified," said Green. "It's unbelievable. We've seen bunches of fish that we've never seen in our lives as fishermen."
The union says DFO's closure of the fishery was based on a lack of information. Carruthers claims DFO didn't have any way of tracking mackerel samples when it closed the mackerel fishery in June.
She said more work needs to be done to document mackerel in Newfoundland and Labrador, and that it's crucial not to underestimate harvesters' observations.
"What you see there is this really big disconnect between what's coming out of a stock assessment model and what harvesters are seeing on the water," she said.
In a statement to CBC News, DFO says that, without a healthy forage fish stock like mackerel, the entire ocean ecosystem would be at risk of collapsing, thereby putting other fisheries at risk.
"The science is clear, and it shows that mackerel stocks are deep in the critical zone, and have been there for more than a decade," said the statement. "There has been a collapse of the mackerel age structure, and that is also a serious risk factor."
An Atlantic mackerel advisory committee meeting is taking place this week in Halifax, said Pretty, where industry and government officials will discuss the future of the mackerel fishery in Canada.
"Atlantic mackerel have been observed around the province in abundance," he said. "Mackerel arrive earlier than DFO assumes and are in much greater quantities. For nearly 10 years now, we've lobbied for additional science."