December 22, 2020 – FFAW-Unifor finds the Rebuilding Plan for Atlantic Cod prepared by DFO discouraging. The approach outlined in the Plan, released on December 21st, is a major setback for the development of a sustainable cod fishing sector in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.
“The tragedy of the northern cod moratorium can be directly linked to this same approach to fisheries science that neglected the input of fish harvesters. We are heading back down that road,” says Keith Sullivan, FFAW President. “This Rebuilding Plan was developed and launched without any recent consultation with harvesters, or the sector in general. Since the moratorium, harvesters have worked closely with DFO for co-management and these efforts have been failing in recent years.”
The harvesting management measures, at the heart of the Rebuilding Plan, are unnecessarily restrictive. The northern cod spawning stock biomass was estimated at 400,000 t at the most recent full assessment. Landings in 2019 were 10,560 t and in 2020 landings decreased to 10,100 t, meaning harvest rates for this stock remain exceptionally low at 2-3%. By comparison, the barents sea cod stock, another large cod stock, had an SSB of 1.4 mt and approximately 700,000 t quota – a harvest rate of over 40%.
The Limit Reference Point that DFO currently uses for northern cod is approximately 800,000 t. Under the DFO Plan, the harvest rate will not increase until the SSB reaches 600,000 t, meaning that the maximum quota available to that point would be approximately 19,000 t. Consequently, northern cod will continue to be one of the least harvested cod fisheries in the world and an economic mess for rural Newfoundland and Labrador.
The Rebuilding Plan should also include the commitment from federal government in 2016 that the first 115,000 t of northern cod is allocated to inshore harvesters and indigenous groups. “We are trying to rebuild an industry,” Sullivan continues. “We have long argued for a measured, responsible approach to cod quotas, whereby the harvest rate increases as the stock increases. This plan does not allow for meaningful development of our cod fishery. It actually deters investment by harvesters and processors into our cod fishery and our rural communities.”
“With recent declines in snow crab quotas, the northern cod stewardship fishery is critically important to inshore fish harvesters and processing plant workers in our province. Harvesters need to be consulted because they are on the water and have the knowledge and experience that DFO science does not. This management approach sends a message to the inshore fishery that their insights are not valued, and the federal government is more concerned with appeasing environmental groups and the offshore fleet than ensuring families in the fishery can earn a living,” Sullivan concluded.
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