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September 22, 2023


September 22, 2023

ST. JOHN’S, NL – The Union that represents commercial fish harvesters in Newfoundland and Labrador is calling on the federal government to prioritize the northern cod fishery by completing scheduled surveys and analyzing existing data prior to the 2024 fishery. The 2023 northern cod stewardship fishery closed just days into the fall season, showing that the current commercial fishery is not lining up with stock availability which resulted in additional undue financial pressure on the seasonal industry.

“Catch rates for northern cod have been extremely high this year even with the slow start to the season due to the late crab season, the entire quota was landed in 6 weeks,” explains Jason Spingle, FFAW-Unifor Secretary Treasurer. “Our Union requested a modest increase to this year’s quota that would be in line with the increasing stock, however the minister at the time instead proceeded with a quota rollover. The result,” Spingle says, “is a fishery where many harvesters only managed a handful of trips and when compounded with the employment insurance pressures this year, it’s truly a crisis situation for many people.”

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans failed to complete important surveys and cancelled stock assessments in recent years due to lack of prioritization. Moreover, DFO failed to use existing data from cod tagging, catch rates and sentinel surveys. This failure of duty from DFO has direct economic consequences on coastal communities in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“Catch rates have been extremely good this year compared to previous years. Truly the best I’ve seen since long before the moratorium,” says Keith Bowen, fish harvester of more than 50 years from St. Mary’s. “When you consider how much of the stock is removed as a result of natural predation, a small increase to our stewardship fishery would not have impacted the health or continued rebuilding of the northern cod stock,” says Bowen.

Processors, harvesters, industry groups as well as the Provincial government all lobbied for increases to the quota this year. The NL-Groundfish Industry Development Council recommended an increase of 4,000mt, which would have meant a total of 17,000mt this year. If this had been granted, it would have meant at least 2 to 3 additional weeks on the water for harvesters and $8.9 million dollars for communities.  Most importantly, the additional work would have provided additional weeks and hours for seasonal workers, which are now desperately need due to unexpected changes to the qualifying criteria.

The government has indicated they plan to complete their annual trawl survey as scheduled this year. FFAW is also advocating for a full northern cod assessment early in 2024 with updated trawl survey data but also updated analyses of cod tagging return and distribution data, fish condition and size distribution, catch rates, and sentinel data.

“Fish harvesters and plant workers in Newfoundland and Labrador cannot bear the brunt of the federal government’s shortcomings when it comes to their obligation to conduct adequate science,” concludes Spingle.



Media inquiries:



Courtney Glode (she/her)
Director of Public Affairs

T: 709-576-7276

M: 709-743-4445
368 Hamilton Ave.

St. John’s NL A1E 1K2