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Gulf Shrimp Coalition Meet With Minister Murray To Discuss Unit 1 Redfish

January 26, 2023

On Thursday January 19th, the Gulf Shrimp Coalition met virtually with Minister Joyce Murray and senior DFO staff to discuss the outlook for the Gulf shrimp stock, and the significance of the Unit 1 commercial redfish fishery. The Coalition is comprised of organizations representing Indigenous shrimp harvesters as well as shrimp harvesters in Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and New Brunswick: Commerical Fisheries for the Wolastoqiyik Wahsipekuk First Nation; FFAW-Unifor; Fédération régionale acadienne des pêcheurs professionnels (FRAPP); and Coopérative des Capitaines propriétaires de la Gaspésie.

Joining Minister Murray from DFO were Liam Mackinnon, Regional Advisor; Andrew Cooper, Regional Advisor for PEI and Nova Scotia; Todd Williams, Senior Director, Resource Management; Neil MacIsaac, Acting Chief of Staff and Director of Fisheries Management; Mark Waddell, Director General, Fisheries Policy; and Elizabeth Arsenault, Director of Operations to the Minister. Attending for FFAW-Unifor were Greg Pretty, President; Jason Spingle, Secretary-Treasurer; Ren Genge, FFAW Inshore Council Member At-Large, 4R Shrimp Fleet; Christopher Gould, FFAW Inshore Council Young Harvester, 4R Shrimp Fleet; and Courtney Langille, Government Relations.

The Minister opened the meeting with congratulations to Greg Pretty on his recent appointment, stating that she looks forward to working together on behalf of FFAW membership. Minister Murray then acknowledged the interest in stakeholders to pursue the emerging redfish fishery after 25 years of moratoria. She emphasized that her department is concentrated on efficient fishing and processing for zero waste of the resource to maximize the value of the fishery at its launch. A cautious approach with focus on sustainability, not maximum removal, will be followed to ensure the longevity of the fishery.

The fairness component was also acknowledged by the Minister as the discussion segued to the decline of the Gulf shrimp stock, and her unilateral decision in 2022 to slash quotas contrary to the established precautionary approach (PA). DFO announced a 19 per cent reduction in SFA 8, 18 per cent reduction in SFA 9, 13 per cent reduction in SFA 12, with a very small increase to SFA 10. With significant cuts in quota, harvesters that rely on Gulf shrimp face uncertainty. The Minister stated that she does recognize that a portion of the Unit 1 redfish fishery is being considered in her future allocation decision in fairness to those harvesters who are at risk of displacement from Gulf shrimp because of the growing redfish stock.

With reference to the historical management of the redfish fishery, Coalition members impressed upon the Minister that it is crucial for Unit 1 redfish to be considered a new fishery. Redfish was initially fished in the 1980’s and 1990’s to supplement declining cod and shrimp quotas, with majority allocation to the offshore which were not equipped with factory freezers. The definition of ‘offshore’ as it existed then is not applicable in today’s fishery. Landings from the offshore fleet were previously brought for processing to local onshore plants, and this relationship maximized the value of the pre-moratoria fishery. Today, this relationship only remains intact between the inshore fleet and onshore processing.

Coalition members also reiterated that all of the stakeholders that they represent have the capacity, equipment, and historical knowledge to begin landing redfish immediately. Launching the commercial redfish fishery as soon as possible, Fall 2023 is beneficial because: (1) redfish continue to prey on Gulf shrimp; (2) redfish are at the stage of growth that they are preying on juvenile shrimp; and (3) to start gaining market access. There are strong management and processing models in place in countries such as Iceland to establish standards for 100% use of the resource, and there has been significant work undertaken in the experimental redfish fishery to develop sustainable practices for harvesting redfish that ensure little bycatch and impact to seabed. The Minister acknowledged this work, and Jason Spingle and Ren Genge referenced the most recent report on the effectiveness of a mid-water trawl and bottom trawl with by-catch separator panel/window also utilizing semi-pelagic trawl doors that was vetted and presented at the DFO stock assessment – noting the objective of the experimental fishery is aligned with the Minister’s objective for a sustainable approach.

In closing, Greg Pretty addressed the Minister and staff, describing the emerging Unit 1 redfish fishery as a significant opportunity for independent owner-operators, as well as the Government of Canada. He spoke of the cod moratorium in 1992, and how there was no supplemental fishery at that time to offset that devastation. It took years to transition from cod to snow crab, and this large biomass of redfish leaves room for immediate, just transition from Gulf shrimp to maintain economic stability for the communities and regions that depend on it. The redfish biomass is an ecological phenomenon, and we are ready to be part of the solution to keeping its value in Canada.

The Minister could not provide a timeline for her decision on allocation and access for commercial Unit 1 redfish, and expressed commitment to doing due diligence in hearing from all stakeholders at this stage.

Thank you to Ren Genge and Christopher Gould for contributing your insights and knowledge during the meeting. We look forward to providing an update to membership on the Minister’s decision when information is available.