The director of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ fisheries management plans understands the impact a dramatic reduction to the inshore shrimp quota for northern shrimp will have on harvesters and plant workers in rural Newfoundland communities.
“It was an extremely difficult and considered decision that (Fisheries Minister Gail Shea) took,” said Sylvie Lapointe, who also chairs the northern shrimp advisory committee.
However, she said the terms of DFO’s last in, first out (LIFO) policy dictate how the department manages a declining fish stock.
“There are no thoughts at this time to change the policy.”
Reaction in Newfoundland and Labrador has been swift since it emerged the inshore quota for northern shrimp was being reduced from 45,300 tonnes in 2013 to 33,876 for 2014 — a 26.2 per cent decline.
Both provincial Fisheries Minister Keith Hutchings and Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union president Earle McCurdy have criticized the decision and the use of LIFO, suggesting it unfairly favours one fleet sector over another.
The offshore allocation will decline by only 3.6 per cent this year — from 66,224 tonnes for 2013 to 63,789. McCurdy said Monday the inshore decline is equivalent to an amount exceeding what two fish plants would process.
The offshore fishery predates the inshore northern shrimp harvest. The latter was introduced in 1997 in response to an overall increase in shrimp fish stocks.
According to Lapointe, the LIFO policy was developed through discussions with industry and the provincial government in the late 1990s and has been in place ever since.
“It’s been discussed every year in the northern shrimp advisory committee. This has been included in our Integrated Fisheries Management Plan for that fishery.”
Lapointe noted that when the total allowable catch for northern shrimp increased throughout the late 1990s and the first few years of the new millenium, it was the inshore sector that benefited the most.
“Now that we are in a situation of decline, the policy provides that these same inshore interests will take the majority of the reductions.”
DFO research identified significant declines in the biomass for shrimp in areas 4, 5, 6 and 7 for Newfoundland and Labrador. That trend is consistent with recent years, according to Lapointe.
“The fact that these shrimp stocks are declining I don’t think was a surprise to anybody, but the extent of the decline this year might have come as a surprise to some folks,” she said.
Warmer water temperatures have been cited as a possible factor for the decline.
“Which are not good for shrimp and crab,” said Lapointe. “At the same time, we are seeing some signs that groundfish stocks are rebuilding.”
With those fish stocks rebounding and shellfish in decline, Lapointe indicated DFO will discuss with industry — including harvesters — how to “manage what appears to be a significant shift in the environment.”
On Tuesday, the FFAW announced it will hold simultaneous protests Wednesday morning at DFO offices in Corner Brook, Grand Falls-Windsor and St. John’s.