The Eastern Georges Bank haddock quota has been cut by more than two-thirds in 2023, with a 2,320-tonne TAC (total allowable catch) set by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), compared to 7,473 tonnes in 2022.

It’s the lowest the TAC has been in the last 10 years, dropping from a high of 24,400 metric tonnes in 2018. In 2019, the TAC was reduced to 15,000 tonnes, in 2020, 13,800 tonnes and in 2021, 7,614 tonnes.

“Spawning stock biomass (SSB) for EGB (Eastern Georges Bank) haddock has declined sharply since 2016,” reads the latest scientific advice on the stock.

“The current SSB estimate for 2021 is 15,351 metric tonnes, which is below the median SSB of 25,235 metric tonnes for the time series (1969–2021). Recruitment, while highly variable, tends to occur when SSB is above 20,000 metric tonnes.”

However, all the news is not bad.

“The 2021 National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) fall survey and the 2022 DFO and NMFS spring surveys suggest that the EGB haddock 2021-year class is the largest since 2013… With the sharp decrease in biomass in the last few years, slight increases in both EGB haddock length- and weight-at-age have been observed in the fishery and survey,” the stock status report goes on to say.

Recommendations for Eastern Georges Bank Atlantic cod, Georges Bank yellowtail flounder and Eastern Georges Bank haddock TACs are made by the joint Canada/U.S. Transboundary Management Guidance Committee (TMGC), following scientific advice provided by the Transboundary Resources Assessment Committee (TRAC) on the three jointly managed groundfish stocks, says Lauren Sankey, communications advisor for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

“The TMGC agreed that a significant reduction in the 2023 Eastern Georges Bank haddock TAC is required, however, consensus on joint TAC advice was not reached,” said Sankey.

“While setting a joint TAC is the goal, Canada and the U.S. set TACs independently this year for haddock. DFO will continue to monitor this fishery and looks forward to next year’s stock assessment. We will continue efforts to come to an agreement with our American partners, whenever possible, regarding TAC advice for our shared stocks.”

Both fixed gear and mobile gear sectors are represented in the Georges Bank groundfish fishery. In 2022, 18 vessels using fixed gear and 27 vessels using mobile gear were active in the fishery. According to preliminary statistics from DFO, in 2022, 5,033,297 kgs of haddock was landed, with a value of $7,679,212 and cod catches tipped the scale at 300,776 kgs, with a landed value of $549,653. Yellowtail flounder landings were under 1,000 kg.

The Canadian portion of the cod TAC for 2023 has been set at 385 tonnes of the joint 520 tonnes for Eastern Georges Bank Atlantic cod. The Georges Bank yellowtail flounder TAC, which is bycatch only, is set at 94 tonnes of the joint 200 tonnes for Georges Bank yellowtail flounder.

According to the stock status report, combined Canada and U.S. catches for (EGB) haddock declined from 6,504 tonnes in 1991 to a low of 2,150 tonnes in 1995, varied between 2,865 tonnes and 4,094 tonnes until 1999 and increased to 15,248 tonnes in 2005.

From 2006 to 2020, catches varied between 11,735 tonnes and 19,856 tonnes apart from a decrease to just above 5,000 tonnes in 2012 and 2013. In 2021, the total catch decreased to 7,526 tonnes and represented 53 per cent of the combined 14,100-tonne quota, a reduction of more than half from 30,000 tonnes in 2020.

The Georges Bank (5Z) groundfish fishery is currently closed until June 1. Large pelagic fish including bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna, bigeye tuna, albacore tuna and swordfish, lobster and sea scallops are also harvested commercially on Georges Bank.