HomeIndustryOffshore Fleet Ready and Able to Take on Redfish Fishery, Says AGC

Offshore Fleet Ready and Able to Take on Redfish Fishery, Says AGC

Despite a drop in its member’s historical shares in the recently reopened redfish fishery, the Atlantic Groundfish Council (AGC) said it has the capacity and market access to make the most of this reemerging resource.

The AGC is made up of a number of offshore harvesting companies, which were recently allotted 58.69 per cent of the yet-undecided total allowable catch (TAC) for the upcoming unit 1 redfish fishery. This number, according to AGC President Sylvie Lapointe, is around 20 per cent lower than the offshore fleet’s historical share from the mid-90s.

Much of the reallocated quota will be redistributed to Gulf shrimp fishermen to aid them in the transition away from the struggling fishery, as well as towards Indigenous fisheries in an act of reconciliation.

“While we lost about 20 per cent of our share at the expense of some inshore fleets, I think overall we’re accepting of the decision. The minister didn’t have an easy task at hand, so I think faced with everything she had in front of her, this was probably the most reasonable and fair approach,” said Lapointe. “The fact that there’s 10 per cent for First Nations, we’re certainly supportive of. It’s unfortunate, though, that some of the quota that was taken away from us was also taken away from Indigenous members of our fleet.”

Conversely, parties that represent inshore harvesters said this cut to the offshore wasn’t nearly enough. The Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW) posited that the inshore fleet would require around 50 per cent of the total allocation for “economic sustainability” in the region. The union’s President, Greg Pretty, went on record to accuse the Department of Fisheries and Oceans of corporate favouritism in their decision.

“The federal Liberal government has given away nearly 60 per cent of the Canadian redfish quota to the corporate trawler fleet rather than allocating it to owner-operator harvesters based in coastal communities. These small-scale fish harvesters and their communities rely on access to the marine resources off their doorsteps,” said Pretty.

“The Minister has very clearly failed in her responsibility under the federal Fisheries Act by not prioritizing social, economic and cultural factors as well as the preservation and promotion of the independence of independent license holders.”

Lapointe, however, feels that these statements downplay the historical contributions of the offshore sector to the redfish fishery.

“From our perspective, and factually, we developed this fishery and continue to develop and invest in it. We have just as many Canadian communities and Atlantic Canadians that depend on the fishery that is conducted by our members, whether its directed fishing or the number of plants that we have. For example, the plants we have in Digby and Cape Breton and the floating plants we have in Newfoundland. They all employ Atlantic Canadians with good, full-time jobs,” said Lapointe.

“Historical shares are important. It’s on that basis that our members did invest significantly, not only in plants but in vessels, so we feel we are just as capable and deserving of the access that we got. [Inshore fleets] have received increased access at our expense.”

As the lead-up to the redfish fishery gets underway, the AGC is looking at exactly where to market Gulf redfish. Lapointe said that the small size of redfish in the area can be restrictive to market access, but there will likely be success in targeting European and Asian markets.

“In both those markets, there is a venue for whole fish. As I said, ours is smaller than what people are normally used to, but we’re going to have to have a mix of products overall so we can access those markets,” said Lapointe.

Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier preceded the final TAC decision on redfish by setting a “floor” of 25,000 tonnes. Any increases over this floor will be decided by the industry in the months preceding the fisheries opening. Whether the TAC is 25,000, 50,000 or 100,000 tonnes, Lapointe said AGC members are ready, willing and able to fish and process whatever comes their way.

“We’ve been fishing redfish even when there was an index fishery. We continually harvested redfish, so we have the expertise to be able to do it sustainably, profitably and we have access to the markets. Are others ready? I would say maybe not as much. It’s going to be challenging for Gulf shrimpers to switch over to redfish, but we’ve got the processing capacity to work with those inshore harvesters and make arrangements with them that are win-win,” said Lapointe.

“The higher the number goes, the more challenging it will be, but we’re pretty confident that where the TAC will land eventually, we’ll be fully capable of processing our share of that.”