Insists cod quotas need to go up to avert disastrous collapse of shellfish
Liberal leadership candidate Danny Dumaresque says fishermen need to catch a lot more cod very quickly or run the risk of a fisheries collapse that will be “10 times what it was in 1992.”
But fisheries scientist George Rose says the kind of thinking coming from Dumaresque and other people in the fishing industry is total hubris and recklessly irresponsible.
Essentially, Dumaresque is worried that as cod stocks rebound, they’ll eat too much crab and shrimp — species that form the backbone of the modern Newfoundland and Labrador fishery.
“There’s millions of cod. The cod is back, and it’s killing the crab and shrimp species,” Dumaresque said. “We have built an industry — a billion-dollar industry — on shrimp and crab and if we think we had a disaster in 1992 when we lost the cod, we’re going to have a bigger one if we don’t get the cod out of the water.”
Dumaresque said the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization cod quotas for international waters already outstrip Canadian quotas by a wide margin, and the federal government needs to play catch-up.
“It’s a practical thing,” he said. “It’s a way of industrial development. It’s a way of managing a fishery properly. We’ve got to take this fish out of the water.”
But Rose, who has been doing fisheries research for almost 30 years and is the fisheries conservation chair at the Marine Institute, said that approach is wrong.
“That’s nonsense,” he said. “I mean, that is trying to engineer a very complex marine ecosystem and we just cannot do that, and it’s foolish to think that we could.”
Rose said cod are indeed making a comeback, and the crab is declining, but that doesn’t mean one is causing the other.
“Of course some cod eat crab — of course they do — and the more cod that there are, likely the more they will eat,” he said. “But the studies that have been done — and there have been a number of them, detailed studies done — do not indicate that cod eat a lot of crab in our ecosystem. They’re a minor part of their prey.”
In fact, Rose said the decline in crab stocks has more to do with climate change than with predation.
“The main driver of this is not one species eating another one or whatever. The main driver of this is change in the ocean climate, change in the basic ecosystem,” he said. “The crab and shrimp are cold water species.”
Rose said scientists don’t know exactly why it’s happening, but crab “recruitment” isn’t happening, and it hasn’t been happening for a number of years.
He said there are still plenty of fully grown crab, but without new crab coming into the system, the population is declining.
“What concerns science is the lack of recruitment, the lack of new crab coming into the system. And that hasn’t been good for quite some time, it’s near a decade,” Rose said. “They’re just not making it, and we don’t know why. From the science side, we don’t know why that’s happening, but we suspect it’s related to a warming of the ecosystem.”
He said that while scientists don’t know exactly what’s causing it, the decline in crab is tied to warmer waters.
Dumaresque said he’s convinced the situation is serious enough that if he’s elected Liberal leader, and then he’s elected premier, he’ll take on the job of fisheries minister as well, and take it up with Ottawa.
“We’ve got a billion-dollar industry simply because of those two species, and if we lose them, I guarantee the economic repercussions will be 10 times what it was in 1992,” Dumaresque said. “I would take the responsibility of fisheries minister. It’s not uncommon for premiers to take departments, but it would be the first time that a premier of Newfoundland would take on the fisheries portfolio, and I would do that, because I really believe that the most important industry in this province is the fishery.”