DFO Ignores Stakeholders, Institutes Massive Reduction in Mackerel Quota for 2021
May 21, 2021 – Today, the Atlantic Mackerel Advisory Committee (AMAC) released the 2021 management plan for the mackerel fishery, announcing a reduction in total allowable catch (TAC) from 8,000 metric tonnes (mt) to 4,000 mt. Harvesters have already endured massive cuts in this stock and requested to maintain the 8,000 mt quota while increasing science work of Newfoundland and Labrador. A quota of 4,000 mt is unacceptable, especially when taking into consideration the observations made by harvesters of an abundance of mackerel, as well as the limitations this places on the research and assessment process.
For years the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has ignored stakeholder advice when managing the mackerel fishery, resulting in significant lost opportunities for fish harvesters in Newfoundland and Labrador. Mackerel harvesters in Newfoundland and Labrador are the most dependent on this fishery in Canada, and consideration must be given to the removal of the recreational fishery and increased enforcement of unmonitored or unrecorded catches in other regions in management decisions.
FFAW-Unifor is calling on DFO to revise its approach to mackerel science so that a true understanding of the size and migration of the stock can be understood. DFO have closed the commercial Atlantic mackerel fishery prematurely in recent years, just when a large body of mackerel arrived on the Northeast Coast. Historically, mackerel has been an important fishery to harvesters and plant workers in the province. In recent years, the ecosystem has been in transition, with harvesters observing unprecedented volume and recruitment of mackerel over a wide geographic region. For the past 4 years, mackerel harvesters have participated in the AMAC, putting forward observations and historical experiences. However, management and science assessments by the DFO does not reflect what harvesters are observing on the water.
Harvesters know that science is underrepresenting the biomass of mackerel and, consequently, the TAC has been reduced by an additional 50% from the 2020 quota. Harvester observations from the past number of a years were put forward at stock assessments and advisory meetings in an objective manner, yet these valuable observations were ignored in management decisions.
The mackerel fishery in our province continues to have 100% dockside monitoring coverage, compared to other regions where there are significant unrecorded landings. It is clear that the earlier appearance of mackerel, and the extremely high catch rates, are inconsistent with science reports, suggesting a different picture of the stock’s health.
Moreover, FFAW-Unifor in collaboration with DFO, submitted a proposal to the Atlantic Fisheries Fund to determine the source of mackerel otoliths. This research would provide important information pertaining to spawning locations, as it is believed that mackerel are spawning in locations not taken into consideration by DFO science. To date, funding for this proposal has not been approved.
Unfair management regimes have placed many of our coastal communities in a very precarious position in recent years. The mackerel fishery is very valuable to our economy, sustaining meaningful employment for harvesters, plant workers, and many spin-off businesses in rural Newfoundland and Labrador. It is imperative that DFO listen to the concerns of harvesters and increase the TAC for 2021, in addition to enabling funding to support important science endeavors that would improve an overall understanding of the mackerel stock.