A handful of fishers who harvest greysol (witch flounder) off the southwest coast are questioning the science behind DFO’s decision to cut their Total Allowable Catch (TAC).
Port aux Basques fisher Darcy Hardy said for the past few years, catches have been healthy.
“Our catch rates are going up,” said Hardy. “The size of the fish is going up. We’ve got the markets set up where they can get rid of it. And when we got this all done they decided to chop it 50 per cent based on science which is at best questionable.”
Last year the TAC went from 1,000 tonnes to 500 tonnes. This year it has been reduced again to 300 tonnes, despite excellent catches.
Hardy said that’s barely enough for the few boats that still pursue greysol.
“We’re down to four active boats and only two plants processing it,” said Hardy. “So it’s one of the easiest fisheries they can manage.”
Despite the ease DFO could have in collecting information on greysol numbers and size, Hardy said they seem to be ignoring the data provided by fishers.
He said a DFO scientist told him at a meeting that he doesn’t use logbook data for his research.
“I said, ‘You mean to tell me I spend 2-3 hours a day filling out a log book for you doing catch size and amount per tow and all this stuff, and you don’t use it?”
DFO Scientist Doug Swain explained in an email why logbook data is not used in decision making reports.
“The greysole fishery takes place in only a small portion of the area where greysole occur in the gulf. Thus, it is difficult to interpret changes in fishery catch rates do they reflect changes in stock biomass or changes in stock distribution.”
Swain said higher catch rates can be misleading, because often the fish will become more concentrated in the best areas as the population goes down.
DFO’s report on Greysol says the stock has experienced a 90 per cent decline since 1960, and there were more 40 centimetre fish at that time.
“How can I argue with that?” asked Hardy. “That was before I was born, sure.”
Hardy said DFO showed no interest in collecting data last year. After the fishery had closed, he and other greysol fishers lobbied to allow one of the four boats to catch the remaing 30,000 pounds of the TAC for data purposes.
Swain disagreed, saying two bottom-trawl surveys and two sentinel trawl surveys are done each year. These are each done in the northern and southern gulf, based on the season.
“Data from these surveys are used to update indices of relative abundance and biomass for witch flounder and to examine length composition and how this has changed over time,” said Swain.
Burgeo-La Poile MHA Andrew Parsons agrees with Hardy that the science behind the TAC cuts seems to be questionable. He has attended meetings with the fishermen, and has questions he can’t get answered.
“Where are they doing the testing?” asked Parsons. “It didn’t seem we could get accurate information on where they’re doing their tows.”
MP Judy Foote has also been working closely with the fishers. She wrote to Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield on the matter. The response from the fisheries minister cited the DFO report which justifies the cut.
Foote said she had a parliamentary page hand-deliver a note back to Ashfield. She is seeking a meeting between him and the Newfoundland greysol fishers.
“This is what they want they want an opportunity to be heard,” said Foote.