In the 1950s and early 1960s, haddock stocks in North Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) areas 3Ps and 3LNO supported a substantial Newfoundland fishery. It was reported in 1955, for example, that the landings of haddock from NAFO 3Ps totalled 58,000 tonnes.
Centre for Fisheries Ecosystems Research MSc student Victoria Howse sorts the catch as it arrives in the lab onboard the Celtic Explorer during 2013.
— Photo taken by John Fisher of CFER
However, the species rapidly declined in number, and there has been no directed haddock fishery in the province since 1992.
Haddock on the south coast of Newfoundland in NAFP Division 3Ps is under moratorium and catches are limited to small amounts of bycatch in other groundfish fisheries.
The last Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) assessment on the species was completed in 2001.
Thanks in large part to acoustic surveys conducted in 3Ps in 2012 and 2013 — by the Centre for Fisheries Ecosystems Research of the Fisheries (CFER) of the Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University — which suggested that the haddock might be making a comeback in 3Ps, the provincial government is providing $25,000 for CFER to pursue research into the abundance of haddock off the south coast of the province.
Sherrylynn Rowe is a research scientist with the CFER.
While the CFER’s 2102 survey focused on cod, Rowe said that research scientists aboard the ‘RV Celtic Explorer’ were surprised with the notable catches of haddock in 3Ps.
Rowe said, “When we did the acoustic trawl in southern Newfoundland waters last year we were surprised to have a number of sets with notable catches of haddock.
“What we want to do now is to go back and take a closer look at the data to see if we can use it to estimate the abundance or biomass of haddock in the area. We don’t know how much haddock is out there at the moment, so the primary focus of our research this coming winter, in conjunction with DFO officials, is to determine the size of the stock in that area.”
The CFER and DFO scientists will do this by examining acoustic data gathered by instruments that detect and quantify fish species. The CFER will also conduct research on the age and growth rates of haddock using samples collected during the 2012 and 2013 ‘RV Celtic Explorer’ research surveys.
Rowe said that the CFER is hoping to focus on these data over the next several months and that results will feed into the DFO stock assessment scheduled for the winter of 2014 by DFO.
“Once we have a handle on what’s there we can really say whether or not it might be possible to open a haddock fishery in the area and what level of removal might be appropriate. This is something we hope to be able to comment on the near future,” Rowe said.
“Of course the haddock catches in the 1950s were extraordinary, and these type of quotas might be setting the bar too high. Haddock is a valuable species and even if some can be caught in smaller amounts it could be meaningful to local harvesters.”
The haddock fishery is still fairly prominent in Nova Scotia especially on the western Scotian Shelf and in the Bay of Fundy. However, the species in the eastern Scotian Shelf area is closed to directed fishing today.
Rowe said that, in contrast to the stock on the Eastern Scotia Shelf, which is experiencing stunted growth and low maximum size of individuals, the haddock caught in 3Ps seem to be doing really well.
She said, “What we’re seeing on the south coast of Newfoundland is so interesting.
“It wasn’t just the amount of haddock we saw but that a significant proportion were large fish measuring 50 centimetres or more in length. We also measured the weight of the fish and examined their productive organs to see if they were male or female mature and to determine if they were mature or in spawning condition.
“We also removed their ear stones or otholiths which will be used to determine their age.
“Irrespective of the actual numbers out there they are really nice, healthy haddock in beautiful condition which could lead to more fish in the future.”
The $25,000 grant from the provincial government will be used in large part to support a CFER graduate student, Bob Rogers, who will do his thesis over the next two years studying the haddock population in Newfoundland under the leadership of Rowe.
Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Derrick Dalley said that studies by CFER indicate that the population of haddock on the south coast may have grown and, given the potential value of a sustainable haddock fishery, his department wanted to help in the ongoing research activity.
Minister Dalley said, “Several decades ago haddock, which do better in warm water temperatures, supported substantial fishing activity off the south coast of the island until the stock went into decline. Recent studies by the CFER indicate that the population may have grown. We need to gather more information about the size of this fish stock.”