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Cod bites: Fishermen, processor weigh in on 3Ps cod fishery after DFO technical briefing

NAFO Subdivision 3Ps is located along the province’s south coast.
NAFO Subdivision 3Ps is located along the province’s south coast. - Department of Fisheries and Oceans

MARYSTOWN, N.L.

Glen Hodge depends on cod caught in fishing zone 3Ps for his livelihood.

Though he also catches crab and lobster, the species provides 60 per cent of his income, the St. Lawrence inshore fisherman said.

This year was a little slower going than last year, he said, but generally he’s done well.

“In 3Ps, within the last four years, I had no problem catching fish, no problem whatsoever,” he said.

Concerns continue about the wellbeing of the stock in the zone, which covers most of the province’s south coast, however.

A technical briefing held by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) in St. John’s on Tuesday, Oct. 23 provided up-to-date scientific information on cod in 3Ps.

Still concerns

The message was the stock has improved somewhat in the last three years, but total mortality is still high, and if that continues to be the case, the spawning stock biomass could move from the cautious zone to the critical zone in the next few years.

The total allowable catch (TAC) for 3Ps for 2018 is 5,980 metric tonnes, 933 metric tonnes of which goes to France for St-Pierre. A couple of years ago, the quota was cut basically in half because of concerns over the stock.

Like many fishermen, Hodge sees draggers fishing in the zone as a worry. He also feels fishermen’s knowledge and opinions aren’t valued as they should be.

“You can speak up all you like,” he said. “They will not listen to us. We don’t know nothing, we knows it, but they don’t want to hear it.”

Trusting the science

After years of fishing cod in 3Ps, La Poile fisherman Ray Vautier says it’s been about half a decade since he’s done that. It’s no longer worth his while, he said, citing the price of cod, the fish grading system and other factors.

Vautier now heads to the Canadian North during the summer, working on tugs and freighters, returning to La Poile to fish towards the end of October. He’ll be back soon and will spend November catching cod in fishing zone 3Pn, just west of 3Ps.

“Last year, the catch rates were unbelievable. The best I’ve ever seen,” he said.

Vautier is not sure what to make of DFO science. One year, they’ll say a stock is recovering, the next year they’re in awful shape again, he said.

“You take in 2003 for instance, they shut down the cod quota in the Gulf (of St. Lawrence) completely. In 2004, they opened up again because stocks were good enough. Cod stocks don’t recover that quick, or disappear that quick,” he said.

Cautiously optimistic

Alberto Wareham, president of Icewater Seafoods in Arnold’s Cove, on the other hand, was encouraged by DFO’s briefing.

Icewater Seafoods processes cod and is a member company of the Groundfish Enterprise Allocation Council, a non-profit association representing offshore groundfish fishing enterprises in Atlantic Canada.

“The science on the stock was better than we anticipated,” he told The Southern Gazette.

“We’re right in the middle of the cautious zone. We still need to be cautious with the stock, but since 2015, the stock has grown a little bit each year, so I take that as positive.”

Wareham, who acknowledged government and industry must continue to be careful with 3Ps cod, said growth of the spawning stock biomass and reports that the fish were a bit healthier are good signs.

“But there’s a long way to go before we say we won the lottery and we have a large-scale fishery,” he said.

As DFO prepares to set the quota for cod in 3Ps for 2019, Wareham said he’s hopeful the status quo remains in place.

“My thoughts would be, the best thing we should do for the long-term future of the stock is just roll it over,” he said.

paul.herridge@southerngazette.ca

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