HomeIndustryEmerging Commercial Redfish Fishery a Chance for N.S. Industry to do “Some...

Emerging Commercial Redfish Fishery a Chance for N.S. Industry to do “Some Really Good Things”

The revival of a commercial fishery, because the stocks have come back, is not something that often happens in Atlantic Canada.

In January, federal fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier announced the Unit 1 commercial redfish fishery, which has been closed since 1995 will be reopened in two phases, starting this year.

“It’s a time in history with the opening of this fishery for people to come together and work collectively in a very positive way, to go forward in a very positive way,” says Louisbourg Seafoods finfish manager Jan Voutier, who serves on the Redfish Advisory Committee.

“The world is watching us. We have the chance to do something good. The Minster has finally made a decision. We’re trying to come to terms with it, trying to make it all work. The industry needs to do the same thing. We have a huge opportunity. There are all kinds of great possibilities. It’s exciting times. More positive working together, more communication, we can do some really good things I think,” said Voutier.

It is anticipated that the initial total allowable catch (TAC) for the Unit 1 commercial redfish fishery will be at least 25,000 tonnes. The Redfish Advisory Committee (RAC) will be meeting on May 3 to 7 to discuss the sustainable management of the fishery as well as to outline the next steps with respect to the sub-allocation of redfish. The opening date and TAC for Unit 1 redfish will be announced following discussions with the RAC on the management plan for the 2024–25 fishing season.

“You have to be positive about this huge resource coming back. It’s been gone at the commercial level for a while,” said Voutier. “It’s very positive, interesting times. People are excited and are posturing to get product.”

Louisbourg Seafoods has been a participant in the redfish index fishery in the Gulf of St. Lawrence since the 1990s. “We’ve been supporting boats from Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick since 1996 when no one else was interested in buying the fish,” says Voutier.

Trying to build markets and find new markets for redfish have been part of the company’s work. “We’re part of a huge marketing plan through different parts of the world, a member of a larger group,” said Voutier.

“Unless you are fully integrated and you are used to this business or market, it’s going to be very difficult because this fish is so small. People not paying attention can actually get themselves in a lot of trouble with this fishery if they are too aggressive or not prepared properly,” advised Voutier.

Since 2021, the Department has been consulting with industry stakeholders, Indigenous communities and organizations, provincial partners and other stakeholders through the Redfish Advisory Committee (RAC) regarding access and allocation for the reopening of commercial redfish fishing in Unit 1.

Going into the RAC meetings in May, sector shares for redfish quota have been confirmed by the Minister.

“We’ve lost about 20 per cent of our quota share to other sectors so she cut us back and spread it out among other sectors and that’s not great, but it’s not terrible. We’re going to survive. It’s not the best case scenario for us but it will be ok. It’s going to be a very interesting fishery going forward,” said Voutier.

“We’re on the verge of something exciting and everybody needs to find a way to come together collectively…to get together and find a way to move forward collectively and build something positive for the Maritimes,” said Voutier.

Based on historical provincial shares, it is estimated that Nova Scotia harvesters will get 33 per cent of the redfish quota; Québec, 32 per cent; Newfoundland and Labrador, 19 per cent; New Brunswick, 11 per cent and Prince Edward Island, five per cent.

In a statement released after meeting with her provincial counterparts on Feb. 13, Minister Lebouthillier said she reminded her counterparts that this decision not only respects the leading role Nova Scotia has historically played in this fishery, but also increases the historical shares of each of the other provinces.

In terms of fleet distribution, the Minister also highlighted the increased leverage of smaller fleets compared to 30 years ago, reducing the share of the offshore fleets from 74 per cent in 1994 to 59 per cent in 2024.

The Unit 1 commercial redfish fishery reopening will take place in two phases. A first two-year transitional phase will allow for data collection, give fish harvesters time to prepare, further develop markets and strengthen the sector’s capacity to transform. A second phase of long-term development will aim to establish a redfish fishery with a modernized allocation key.

There are two species of redfish in this region: the Atlantic redfish (Sebastes mentella) and the Acadian redfish (Sebastes fasciatus). Since 1999, an annual fishery of 2,000 tonnes has been in place. The indicator fishery made it possible to continue the collection of fishing and biological data.

Since 2018, a test fishery has been in place to collect important fisheries data, such as catches of undersized fish, species identification and bycatch, and to test fishing gear and fishing methods, to inform management measures for a reopened commercial fishery. In 2023, the Unit 1 experimental redfish fishing quota increased from 2,500 t to 5,000 t.

“Based on established reference points, the stock status of S. mentella in 2023 is in the healthy zone of the precautionary approach with spawning stock biomass (2,302 kilotonnes (kt)) well above the healthy zone limit (8.7 times the upper reference point of 265 kt). This value is among the highest observed in Unit 1 since 1984,” said Axel Rioux, DFO communications.

“However, redfish growth has slowed over the past three years and there has been no significant recruitment (new baby fish) since the strong cohorts of 2011–2013. A decrease in biomass, even without fishing, is to be expected in the coming years,” he said.

Voutier said the recent scientific findings are not really a concern. “Redfish recruits differently than most other species, it comes in pulses and every so often when the environmental conditions are right it will happen and it has happened,” he said.