November 14, 2020 – FFAW is calling on DFO to revise its approach to mackerel science so that a true understanding of the size of the stock can be understood.
DFO closed the commercial Atlantic mackerel fishery on Tuesday, November 10th just when a large body of mackerel arrived on the Northeast Coast. “The closure is uncalled for”, says Robbie Green, harvester in 3L. “The mackerel fishery in this province can support a much larger quota.”
The current DFO approach to assessing the size of the mackerel stocks involves a survey in the southern Gulf, far from the northeast coast of Newfoundland and Labrador where significant amount of mackerel is caught and landed in this province. For the past few years harvesters have seen an abundance of commercial-sized mackerel and young-of-the-year mackerel on the northeast coast. “It is highly unlikely that these 3-4 inch “pencil” (juvenile) mackerel were born in the southern Gulf earlier this year and migrated to Green Bay,” says Erin Carruthers, FFAW’s fisheries scientist. “This means that these abundant mackerel would not have been included in DFO’s southern Gulf mackerel survey.”
However, harvesters are now forbidden from catching this mackerel since the allowable catch is based solely on the Gulf survey and has not considered the experiences of harvesters in this province for several years. “I still disagree with what DFO’s science says about the stock,” says Trevor Jones, a harvester from the Green Bay area. “The main body is just arriving, with none to catch. The opportunity to increase our landings would have been a big help in a year like this.”
Fish harvesters have consistently observed a growing abundance of mackerel. Harvesters know that DFO is underestimating the biomass of mackerel, which has resulted in the TAC being set at an unacceptably low level. Harvester observations from the past number of years were put forward at stock assessment and advisory meetings in an objective manner, yet these valuable observations were ignored in management decisions. NL harvesters continue to feel frustrated with what they see as unanswered questions and a more abundant resource.
NL harvesters and FFAW’s science team have undertaken considerable work to address gaps in information collected by DFO. In 2018 FFAW issued a call for small mackerel samples (under 20cm long) on the Northeast Coast to better understand spawning distribution. Despite these samples being provided to DFO for both 2018 and 2019, DFO appears to have ignored the information and it has not been included in the science assessments.
Moreover, FFAW-Unifor, in collaboration with DFO, submitted a proposal to the Atlantic Fisheries Fund for research to 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.
“As we predicted, NL harvesters have been forced to stop fishing just as the fish migrates into traditional fishing areas because the stock assessment does not take into account changing fish distributions,” says FFAW President Keith Sullivan. “It is time that DFO take harvesters’ observations and knowledge of shifting mackerel distributions seriously.”
FFAW is calling for a commitment from DFO to understand the distribution of spawning mackerel and a commitment to revise the assessment of this important commercial stock accordingly.
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