Brandon Anstey’s article, “Closing cod fishery could have lasting effects” (The Telegram, April 4) identifies the widening gaps in communication between the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and those who live in many of Newfoundland’s fishing communities.
DFO was quoted in statements as saying that if the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife (COSEWIC) had its way, it would be “illegal for anyone to catch the fish for any purpose.”
On the other side were comments by various commercial fishermen that “cod were more plentiful than ever.”
DFO summarized its participation in the COSEWIC process, stating that, “It would analyze specific scientific data and the results of the consultations before making a decision if cod would be placed on the protected species list.”
Left out of the discussion
Unfortunately, in this case, as in many others, fishermen, fishing communities, community interest groups and concerned citizens are left wondering about the way ahead.
Missing from the discussion is input from ocean scientists involved in ocean habitat, the ocean food web and cod research, and other concerned citizens and organizations who fear for the future of their coastal communities.
Similarly missing is any initiative or plan by DFO to continue discussions among the various interest groups and affected parties.
Are there other options available to promote ocean recovery and cod recovery while permitting fishermen to fish?
We think so.
Learning from others
The positive experiences shown in other jurisdictions indicate this is what recovery is about — developing strategies which can restore sustainability to traditional fisheries and traditional fishing communities.
The Newfoundland and Labrador cod fishery has a 450-year tradition of functioning as a sustainable fishery. Identifying the components of that fishery which made it sustainable for literally centuries, takes on a renewed importance when considering cod recovery strategies.
What comes to mind is a respect for the ocean and its capacity to renew, and an understanding of how important that is to fishing communities.
It also involves maintaining connections between fishing communities and the ocean. This includes restoring small-scale fisheries and making them accessible to our young people by permitting them to become involved in fishing as owner-operators.
In that context, we recommend that a federal Fisheries Management Act be passed to foster regional management of commercial fish stocks in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Under this act, municipal, provincial, and federal governments in conjunction with fishery unions, environmental groups, concerned citizens and an arm’s-length independent fisheries research branch would establish regional joint fisheries recovery boards to rebuild cod and other fisheries along the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The current cod fishery is uneven in that some areas experience very small catches while others have apparent abundance.
We recommend that a series of pilot projects to restore sustainability be undertaken.
Such projects would be local, involving one or several communities and would concentrate on a number of proven sustainable cod fishing practices while exercising the precautionary principal of lowest risk possible.
These practices include:
- Day fishing using handline equipment only. Handlining using a long line with one to several baited hooks is one of the oldest fishing methods known in Newfoundland and Labrador and has minimum impact or contact with the ocean floor. Fish are caught alive and if deemed too small can be returned to the ocean virtually unharmed. Large cod — greater than 90 centimetres (36 inches) — caught using this technology receive high marine stewardship ratings and are much sought after as a fresh or salted product on international markets.
- A three to 12-mile handline fishing zone using, where applicable, traditional community-based boundaries or establishing new ones, to promote community-based handlining.
- Assisting new entrants into the handline fishing industry by providing inexpensive, $20 handline fishing licences for those under 35 to go fishing out of their own communities.
- Closing some areas outside 12 miles to permit ocean habitat recovery and, with it, offshore commercial cod recovery.
- Signing legally binding agreements between the federal minister of fisheries and fishing communities to manage these small-scale cod fisheries for the benefit of these coastal communities.
- Establishing a marketing agency to promote Newfoundland and Labrador seafood locally and internationally.
- Opening the purchase of fish to anyone interested.
The goal of this initiative is long-term sustainability of Newfoundland and Labrador fishing communities through the rebuilding of traditional inshore commercial fish stocks — primarily cod — and fishing communities. The concerns articulated by COSEWIC are a warning that positive changes are needed.
The observations articulated by fishermen around the coast indicate that cod have recovered to some extent in some areas. However, in many locations recovery has not taken place and other steps are required to assist the coastal areas of those fishing communities to recover.
Fred Winsor is conservation chair for Sierra Club Canada.
He writes from St. John’s.