Harvester-Led Cod Sentinel Survey in 25th Year

This article was originally published in the Fall 2019 edition of the Union Forum magazine.

It is widely believed that the lack of consideration for fish harvesters’ views played a key role in the severe declines that occurred in most Atlantic Canadian groundfish stocks in the early to mid-1990’s. The devastation of the cod moratorium led many inshore harvesters to fight for their seat at the stock assessment table, and over two decades later harvesters continue to play an important role in fisheries science. The harvester-led Cod Sentinel Survey is now finishing up its 25th year of providing valuable information for the scientific assessment of the northern cod stock. The research project, which was developed by fish harvesters and FFAW-Unifor in close collaboration with DFO, represents an iconic example of incorporating the traditional knowledge and experience of fish harvesters into the DFO assessment process.

Each year, approximately 40 fish harvesters from around the province contribute vital data on catch rates, biological characteristics, geographical distribution, and more. The data collected has provided a long-term index to better understand northern cod around Newfoundland and Labrador and shows the critical role fish harvesters play in the processes for fisheries science.

“The success of this survey is due in large part to the dedication, commitment and cooperation of inshore fish harvesters over these past 25 years,” says Keith Sullivan, FFAW-Unifor President.

Lloyd Burry of Happy Adventure has been a fish harvester since 1972 and has been participating in the Sentinel Survey for 20 years. Lloyd says, “The fish I brought in this week was the best fish – the healthiest fish – I’ve ever seen in my life and the capelin hasn’t even come in yet. We started to see cod come back around 8 or 10 years ago, and every year it’s getting thicker. It’s wonderful to see.”

Derek St. George of Heart’s Desire in Trinity Bay has been fishing for 42 years and has been a Sentinel participant for six years. Derek vividly remembers the moratorium and the changes that have happened in the years since. “Since I’ve been at it, I’ve seen a lot of changes. The fish are getting better, thicker, healthier. In the 90s and early 2000s it wasn’t great but last 5 or 6 years, it’s unbelievable. The different classes of fish we are seeing, it’s getting better all the time. Hopefully the trend continues,” said Derek.

“The Sentinel Survey is a valuable tool that contributes important information to the assessment process. We first saw the stock growing through the Sentinel Survey in 2J and 3K, and the survey gives us a very good idea of the availability for the fishery,” says Dr. Erin Carruthers, FFAW-Unifor Fisheries Scientist. “I believe that there is opportunity for harvesters to collect even more data that could provide additional insight and a better understanding of the northern cod stock.”

The Sentinel Survey represented the first step in the movement towards a more collaborative partnership between fish harvesters and DFO scientists with respect to the collection of scientific data and the incorporation of this information into the stock assessment process. It also represented the first step in the development and delivery of other collaborative Industry/DFO science projects and programs such as the Industry Collaborative Post-Season Snow Crab Trap Survey, the Lobster At-Sea Sampling Program, the Green Crab Mitigation Project, projects on the reproductive potential of groundfish species and various tagging programs for cod and Atlantic halibut.

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