Move could endanger industry

Brandon Anstey - Special to the Beacon
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Closing cod fishery could have lasting effects, local fishermen say

Once the largest economic driver in the province, the cod fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador is once again being threatened.

Appleton’s Junior Stuckey is no stranger to the cod fishery. The he says catches are healthier now than ever, and putting the Atlantic cod on a list of species at risk has the potential to disrupt other fishing markets. — Submitted photo

It all began in the fall of 2013 when reports surfaced about the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) making recommendations to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to list Atlantic cod under the Species at Risk Act. A public consultation process was carried out and concluded in January. The DFO has said it will analyze specific scientific data and the results of the consultations before making a decision on whether or not to put Atlantic cod on the protected species list. The reason for  concern stems from an estimated 97-99 per cent population decline in the Atlantic cod stock over the last 33 years. According to the DFO, if Atlantic cod were put on the list, it would be illegal for anyone to catch the fish for any purpose.

Appleton’s Junior Stuckey fishes cod out of Summerford both commercially and for the sentinel fishery, a program that sees fish harvesters working with the DFO to collect data on the health of cod stocks in the province. The sentinel fishery program began in 1995, and is conducted under specific scientific conditions. According to Stuckey, the nets are telling a mixed tale of the cod stock’s health.

“It’s gone down a lot on the sentinel, but it’s up a fair bit when we’re doing our commercial fishing,” he said. “The last three years, there’s been thousands of it, and the size of the cod is way up.”

The success of a catch depends heavily upon the eating habits of codfish, said the veteran fisherman.

“The caplin came in deep water last year, so we had to put down our nets in 180 fathom(s) of water just to catch our fish. That’s a big difference compared to 30-40 fathom(s) in other years. Wherever the caplin goes the cod goes.”

The concern, said Stuckey, is not so much about the current health of the cod stock as it is about the amount of young fish coming up to take place of the cod being caught.

Everett Brown of New World Island has been fishing cod for more than 40 years. He agrees with Stuckey about the health of the commercial cod fishery.

“We were fishing across Exploits for years, and if you put out 10 nets and hauled them the next morning and got 10 fish a net, you were doing good,” said Brown. “Now you put them out at 6 a.m., and start hauling them up at 8 a.m. In just a couple of hours you can haul a few thousand pounds of fish, so you know there has to be more fish. The size is there, too — it’s healthy fish.”

Talks of a collapsing cod fishery once swarmed conversations in provincial fishing circles, but things have changed over the years, said Brown.

“Since the moratorium, it has changed big time. There’s more codfish here now than when John Cabot came across.”

Listing Atlantic cod as a species at risk list could create a much bigger problem with potential effects on other fisheries, said the longtime fisherman.

“A cod is like a dog. They’ll eat what ever comes in front of them. If the cod was put on that list, we’re going to lose our crab fishery and shrimp fishery. That’s two fisheries we stand to lose completely. We inshore fishers are going to be out of it.”

Lorne Wheeler, a recreational cod fisherman from New World Island, said there’s not much of an issue when it comes to the health of the current Atlantic cod stock.

“I don’t see any problems with the cod,” said Wheeler. “They’ve been coming back more and more over the last few years.”

He agreed with Brown about the potential negative effects of taking cod off the market.

“If it’s put on that list and you’re not allowed to take cod, the crab is going to be gone as well as the shrimp,” said Wheeler. “They’ll eat everything that’s out there.”

Larry Easton has been fishing Atlantic cod in the Carmanville area for 40 years, and said from a recreational point of view, taking the hooks out of the water will put an unpleasant damper on a way of life for many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

“If they put it on the list, you know what that is,” said Easton. “We won’t even get one to eat anymore.”

The cod fishery can be sustained well into the future with the right planning, said the Carmanville fisherman.

“If it was looked after in the right and proper way, I certainly think there’s a future for the cod fishery,” he said.

Stuckey echoed Easton’s comments.

“It’s sustainable into the future as long as the quotas stay the way they are,” said Stuckey. “I don’t think there’s enough science put into it.”

Organizations: Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife

Geographic location: Atlantic, Canada, New World Island Summerford Carmanville

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  • Stephen Best
    April 04, 2014 - 17:08

    Goodness! Junior Stuckey says "There’s more codfish here now than when John Cabot came across." So, it seems the seals aren't eating all the fish.

  • VRP
    April 04, 2014 - 08:39

    I generally trust science, but, I think this one, like many environmental groups, is composed of too many religionists, and, too few scientists. The totality of the food fishers have experienced an abundance of cod all around the island in the last couple of years, as opposed to almost nothing in some areas when the food fishery first opened. Crab harvesters, who employ very sophisticated fish finding equipment, report cod [as one told me] "everywhere... 30 miles off... 80 miles off... everywhere". We have to remember that scientists also include the likes of David Suzuki who's made a career out of exaggeration, including declaring the harp seal endangered a decade or so ago.

  • Aub
    April 04, 2014 - 07:24

    Every year about this time the scientists try to tell there is no cod so DFO will cancel the food fishery. Don't ask a scientist-ask a fisherman.