December 2, 2021
The message from harvesters across the province this week has been clear – a weak link gear modification policy has no place in the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery. FFAW-Unifor is calling on DFO to immediately cease implementation of this policy as-is and begin a new consultation process that will ensure such policies are implemented in a consistent and logical manner.
Earlier this week, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) held three virtual meetings in a feeble effort to consult with the over 3000 fishing enterprises that will be affected by this new policy. All harvesters left consultations unanimous in their opposition to the weak rope policy and confused by DFO’s lack of understanding of how the fishery is conducted in the province.
“The meetings held this week were in no shape or form a method of proper stakeholder consultation. Instead of getting answers for harvesters, DFO has only left us with more questions and more frustration,” says FFAW-Unifor Secretary-Treasurer Robert Keenan.
Weak rope measures are being implemented with the goal of preventing right whale entanglements. As DFO admits, there has never been a right whale entanglement in the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery and right whale sightings in this province are rare.
Most concerning to harvesters is that DFO has provided no evidence that this gear is safe or effective for the fishery in this province. “We asked DFO why it settled on weak rope as a solution to this supposed problem if they did not even know that it could work,” says Tony Doyle, FFAW-Unifor Inshore Vice President and a fish harvester from Bay de Verde. “They had no response. We told them that this was just going to make the ghost gear problem even worse, and they again had no response.”
Ghost gear refers to gear lost at sea, usually in rough waters or when a line breaks. After centuries of fishing, the ocean floor is littered with ghost gear and the federal government has recently dedicated millions of dollars for ghost gear clean-up. Under the weak gear policy, gear will breakoff at 1700lbs of pressure. Given conditions of the North Atlantic, the depths at which fishing occurs, and the weight of gear combined with catches, the DFO weak rope policy will result in a substantial increase in gear breaking off, which will exacerbate the ghost gear problem.
“DFO provided absolutely no data that indicates this gear would hold up to northern Atlantic tides, ice conditions and the heavy weight of catches. It is time for DFO to admit that they made a mistake with this policy in Newfoundland and Labrador and to make clear that it will not be pursued. This has been handled so poorly by DFO that there is no salvaging this initiative. It needs to be scrapped and a new approach to marine mammals needs to be instituted, one that provides harvesters with meaningful input into any solution,” says Keenan.
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