April 1, 2021 – The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) released the Stock Assessment Report for the 2J3JKL Northern cod today which showed a slight increase in the stock for 2021. Pursuant to the recently released Northern Cod Rebuilding Plan, the quota for the stewardship fishery should increase to 12,999MT, a small increase over 2020.
“While it is nice to see an increase to the stock, there are significant problems with the content of this assessment,” says Keith Smith, a harvester from Trinity Bay who was attendance. “We went through several days of presentations and the impact of seals was significantly downplayed. It’s like DFO operate in denial of reality.”
DFO focused on the connection between a healthy cod stock and a healthy capelin stock. However, DFO did not discuss the biggest threat to the sustainability of the capelin stock, nor how 0.1% of capelin fished by harvesters would impact the health of the Northern cod stock.
FFAW also remain concerned with the limit reference point established by DFO for Northern cod. “The limit reference point (LRP) is the benchmark that determines when a stock is in the critical zone,” says Dr. Erin Carruthers, FFAW Fisheries Scientist. “As such, establishing an LRP that takes into account stock growth over a longer time period is essential from both a fisheries science and resource management perspective.”
The LRP for Northern cod is set based on the perceived health of the stock for a five-year period in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This limited window ignores other points in time, particularly the mid to late 1970s when the stock was lower than it currently is, and fishing activity was more intense. Even under those conditions, the stock rebounded.
“The LRP is not realistic,” says Keith Sullivan, President of FFAW. “If it was based on a proper historical perspective, the current stock should be in the cautious zone. Instead, we are only halfway to that point.”
One consequence of an inaccurate LRP is strict limitations on the harvest rate. Under the current rebuilding plan, the harvest rate for the stock is limited to an extremely low 2%, making the Northern cod stock, which is among the largest in the world, the least harvested cod fishery in the world.”
“Fishing mortality is at an all-time low while natural mortality, likely led by the growing seal population that consumes vast amounts of both capelin and cod, remains high,” Sullivan continued. “In the late 1970s, we had a balanced ecosystem with a controlled seal population. This allowed for a sustainable capelin stock and regrowth of the cod stock even as fishing remained at high levels.”
“The Northern cod fishery is critically important to inshore fish harvesters and processing plant workers in our province. The report from DFO sends a message to the inshore fishery that government is more concerned with appeasing environmental groups than ensuring families in the fishery can earn a living,” Sullivan concluded.
CLICK HERE to see the full presentation document provided by DFO this morning.
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