Countering the armchair fisheries scientists

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For the last 20 years I have been involved in fisheries science, stewardship and management initiatives. Many times during those 20 years I have seen the hard work and sacrifice of individuals belittled or ignored by persons or groups that have not been intimately involved in those initiatives. Many times the positions of those critics and the degree to which they cherry pick and sometimes distort facts have been incomprehensible.

Recently DFO announced an increase in the northern cod stewardship fishery allowable catch. The decision to take about 1,000 metric tonnes more than during recent years seems to have hit a raw nerve with a couple of experts. One expert, Jeffery Hutchings is a fisheries scientist working out of some university in Halifax and the other, Bettina Saier, also in Halifax, is an expert in fisheries matters with the World Wildlife Fund.

I won’t question their qualifications or expertise but I do find it rather strange that I have not observed the involvement of either of them in any of Newfoundland and Labrador science, stewardship or management initiatives on northern cod in the last 20 years. I won’t speculate as to their motivation but I have always observed that the harshest criticisms most times emanates from “armchair critics.” While they may not be commenting from an armchair, their absence from the scene surely means their opinions are formed from something less than direct involvement.

There are a couple of very important facts about Northern Cod that neither Hutchings nor Saier appear willing to accept, or at least communicate. Instead they keep referring to the current stock biomass in relation to the historic level. While I personally have doubts that the actual biomass level was ever as high as some estimates suggest, I do agree that the current level is below its historic level. Having said that, for anyone to rationally and factually assess the decision to increase the catch, two very important questions need to be answered. Has there been stock growth and, are the removals by the stewardship fishery impeding stock growth?

The answer to the first question is, the northern cod stock biomass has increased by approximately 1,500 per cent in recent years and the spawning stock biomass now stands, at minimum, somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 metric tonnes.

The answer to the second question can also be found in the answer to the first question. Quite obviously, the stewardship fishery has had very little impact on stock growth.

The recent decision to increase the catch limit was a result of the following:

• The stock grew by 1,500 per cent while the stewardship fishery was ongoing.

• The stewardship fishery removals had a minimal impact on stock growth.

• The decision was taken after considerable discussion and consultation between fish management and the fishing industry and the most recent data on Northern Cod was part of those considerations.

Contrary to what Hutchings and Saier would have you believe, fish harvesters, scientists and fisheries managers have made great advances in assessing, managing and harvesting our fish resources since 1992. For most species, including cod, they have done so collaboratively as a team, and sustainability is always a top priority. Are we perfect yet? Not yet, but we are working on it!

Are we as bad as Hutchings and Saier say we are?

Absolutely, positively not. If they could drop their preconceived, extremely biased view for just five minutes and objectively review the situation, they just might realize that it is their attitude that is long overdue for a change.

Harvey Jarvis

Project manager,

Fish, Food and Allied Worker’s Union

Organizations: World Wildlife Fund

Geographic location: Halifax, Northern Cod, Newfoundland and Labrador Allied Worker

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