Today, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) released the 2020 management plan for the mackerel fishery, announcing a total allowable catch (TAC) rollover of 8,000 tonnes. The rollover is a far cry from the modest 24,000 tonnes proposed at the Advisory meeting earlier this year. 8,000 tonnes is an unacceptably low level when taking into consideration the numerous signs of abundance and shortfalls in the assessment. This TAC will further hurt NL harvesters at a time when they are experiencing the biggest economic challenge since the cod moratorium.
For several years DFO has ignored stakeholder advise when managing the mackerel fishery, resulting in significant lost opportunities for fish harvesters in Newfoundland and Labrador. Atlantic mackerel is a transboundary stock, covering both Canadian and US waters. 2019 Canadian quota for mackerel was set at 8000 metric tonnes, a 20 percent decrease from 2018. This quota level for Newfoundland and Labrador fish harvesters is far too low and must be increased to more accurately reflect the stock’s abundance.
Historically, mackerel has been an important fishery to harvesters 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 three years, Newfoundland and Labrador harvesters have participated in the Atlantic Mackerel Advisory Committee, putting forward observations and historical experiences. However, management and science assessments by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans does not reflect what harvesters are observing on the water.
Fish harvesters have grown increasingly frustrated in recent years due to the fact that assessments and management plans have not reflected the significant growth of the stock, particularly on Newfoundland and Labrador’s northeast coast. While harvesters have consistently observed a growing abundance of mackerel, DFO science surveys and on-the-water observations has been very limited. Harvesters know that DFO is underestimating the biomass of mackerel and consequently the TAC has been once again set at an unacceptably low level. Harvester observations from the past number of a years were put forward at stock assessment and advisory meetings in an objective manner, yet these valuable observations were ignored in management decisions.
Catch rates by NL harvesters are unprecedented. The mackerel fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador 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 DFO science reports, suggesting a considerably more optimistic picture of the stock’s health.
FFAW-Unifor’s science team has undertaken considerable work to better understand the true health of the mackerel stock in Newfoundland and Labrador. As a result of the gap in information collected by DFO, in 2018 FFAW-Unifor issued a call for small mackerel samples (under 20cm long) on the northeast coast to better understand spawning distribution in this region. Observations and sampling indicate that mackerel are spawning on the northeast coast in addition to the southern gulf, where scientific surveys are being completed. Despite these samples being provided in both 2018 and 2019, no results have been provided by DFO or included in the science assessments.
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 of 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.
It is imperative that DFO listen to the concerns of Newfoundland and Labrador harvesters by funding important science endeavors that would improve understanding of the stock. They must also immediately increase the TAC for 2020. A modest increase would allow harvesters increased economic opportunity in a year when they are facing significant challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have requested a meeting with the Minister and will provide an update when available.