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Letter: Clarifying the caplin catch

['In this undated handout photo from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, samples of <strong>capelin</strong> are seen in a bucket after being caught near the town of Middle Cove.']
['In this undated handout photo from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, samples of <strong>capelin</strong> are seen in a bucket after being caught near the town of Middle Cove.']

In two recent articles appearing in The Telegram (“Fishing caplin no longer makes sense,” July 31 and “The goofiest goof of all our goofy goofs,” Aug. 1), columnist Russell Wangersky and letter-writer Tom Careen, respectively, lament the caplin fishery. The story we are being asked to believe is that the caplin fishery is wrong and impairs the recovery of cod. Some balance is required in the perspectives offered.

First, this year’s caplin fishery is underway, and by all reports there is abundant caplin being found. Sounders are showing large schools of caplin. Yes, caplin landed to date have been smaller, though sizes may yet increase further north, but it is not sparse in terms of a fishery as was suggested in one of the pieces. Standing on shore looking at boats around a given aggregation is no indicator of consequence.

Second, the current management of the fishery is based on precaution. The lament in one article was that the DFO science report said “it is suggested a cautious approach to increasing total allowable catches be adopted.”

That recommendation on caution was in the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) report the year before last, and that has been followed. Total allowable catches (TACs) have been held relatively steady since then, and before. TACs since 2011 have been between 25,000 tonnes and 30,000 tonnes. More on that later.

Third, caplin in 2013 and 2014 reached their highest levels since the early 1990s. That must be considered in light of the fact that the entire ecosystem has changed since the 1990s. That same CSAS report said, “Industry and researchers agree that for the next couple of years caplin look to be stable or increasing.”

Fourth, DFO science is on record as saying that the relatively small size of the caplin fishery does not warrant a closure. Fishing mortality is only one factor in considering the sustainability of a fishery. In the case of caplin, “fishing removals” represent a very small portion of removals in comparison to natural mortality, predation by fish, seabirds or whales, etc. As one scientist has said, “there is very little fishing of caplin.”

But the total fish consumption of caplin was estimated at 1 million tonnes to 2.5 million tonnes just a few years ago (this does not include consumption by whales or seabirds). Our TAC is just a fraction of that, at 30,000 tonnes. New science out of the University of Washington, while necessitating additional study in terms of application here, suggests that fishing mortality on pelagics like caplin is not the factor we think it is in terms of stock impacts and recovery.

Fifth and finally, as was acknowledged in The Telegram column, DFO recently announced $2.4 million for additional caplin research. That is welcomed by industry, and industry has been calling for it for sometime. Industry is not afraid of new science, or of what it will show.

Fisheries are complex at the best of times, but our intuitive impressions of what should be done are not the appropriate basis for management. We should look at the input of science, practice shared stewardship between the resource managers and industry, and manage on the basis of precaution, while being realistic about the larger ecosystem realities.  

At this point, the operative word remains “balance.” We must proceed with caution, as we are doing, and enhance the science, as the federal government and DFO have committed to doing. Steady as she goes.

 

Derek Butler
Association of Seafood Producers 

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