While the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is content with Canadian fish harvesters missing out on yet another year of the Atlantic mackerel fishery, American harvesters have seen a 27 per cent reduction in quota, leaving them with a 3,539-tonne quota of this so-called shared stock.
The American quota, while under 500 tonnes short of Canada’s Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of 4,000 tonnes in 2021 (the last year Canadians were able to catch mackerel), is still a far cry from their 21,000-tonne TAC in the same year.
While the Americans’ 83 per cent decrease in quota over two years might signal that the Canadian government is right in extending the moratorium in hopes that mackerel stocks recover from their diminished state, the American decision to drastically cut, but not halt the fishery, proves that maintaining stock health doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.
Beyond that, the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW) of Newfoundland and Labrador posit that DFO has the science all wrong to begin with, calling the government’s decision a “closure without cause.” The evidence, the union claims, is both scientific and anecdotal.
As the old adage goes, seeing is believing — and harvesters are seeing mackerel.
The harvesters the FFAW represent, many of whom have put in enough hours on the water to notice the cyclical trends of Atlantic fish stocks, claim they’ve observed as much mackerel in the waters today as they have for the previous decade or more.
As far as the science goes, the FFAW claims DFO is simply conducting surveys at the wrong time. They say mackerel populations arrive in Atlantic Canadian waters far earlier than DFO assumes, leading to inaccurate reports of this so-called “critical” stock.
This sentiment was echoed by the president of the Prince Edward Island Fishermen’s Association (PEIFA), Robert Jenkins, in a 2022 letter sent to DFO Minister Joyce Murray in 2022.
“The result of the scientific model developed for the stock assessment is not reflective of what our fishers are seeing on the water,” wrote Jenkins. “Fishers are seeing positive indicators like potential improved recruitment and new spawning areas and have requested that DFO expand their science to encompass what fishers are observing. PEIFA has been requesting for years that the gaps in the science and the modelling be properly addressed and take into account their expertise and day-to-day experience on the water.”
DFO must also consider the far-reaching consequences of denying harvesters the ability to catch their own bait.
With the input cost of everything to do with the fisheries steadily rising — from the soaring costs of vessels and licenses to the ever-increasing price of fuel, to the eyewatering costs of bait — it is more important than ever, for the livelihood of the over $8-billion Canadian fishery and the harvesters that ensure it’s success, that they’re able to catch a financial break somewhere along the way.
A majority of fish harvesters are not just there to pillage and plunder the spoils of Canada’s rich waters. Many consider themselves stewards of the sea and many more of them care more about the health of fish stocks than your average Canadian. A total collapse of a stock as important as mackerel means a pillar of their livelihood has collapsed, as well.
DFO needs to consider all the advice they’re getting from those that know the ocean as well as anyone, as well as our neighbours to the south. Canadian harvesters should still be allowed a piece of the pie that is our shared fishery, even if it is smaller than they’re used to.