Fishery managers, union questioned at meeting

Glen Whiffen
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Inshore fishermen want draggers stopped from fishing during cod spawning time

There’s nothing that irks Lamaline fisherman Alfred Fitzpatrick more than reports of cod being dumped by offshore draggers — large boats he and other south coast fishermen say shouldn’t be permitted to fish while the cod stock has gathered to spawn.

A fisherman checks his cod pots. As the cod stocks grow in zone 3Ps, quotas are expected to increase. And with crab stocks declining, inshore fishermen are becoming more reliant on cod.

"We’ve been told of all the little fish, belly up, floating away behind the boat. Don’t that paint a picture?” Fitzpatrick said.

“That’s the future, that’s my livelihood floating away. It’s the same thing that happened back in the 1980s.”


Those reports of high-grading (taking larger fish only), and the fact the large vessels have even been permitted to fish on the cod stock in fishing zone 3Ps this time of year, has riled inshore fishermen.


On Feb. 27, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) announced that, as a continuation of a pilot project initiated in 2014, the commercial cod fishery in NAFO subdivision 3Ps (off the province’s south coast) would remain open to March 31. It had been scheduled to shut down March 1.


“The pilot project extends the fishing season and will support the collection of samples that will contribute this scientific research into the timing of cod spawning,” a DFO statement issued last week read.


“Based upon the most recent assessment of this stock, extending the 3Ps pilot project is expected to have limited impact on the stock. DFO resource management has requested that DFO science analyze the spawning condition of cod over this period and provide advice on current spawning times at the next stock assessment.”


On Friday, DFO officials met with the fishermen, and the union that represents them, the Fish, Food and Allied Workers/Unifor (FFAW/Unifor).


The fishermen have accused their union of not being clear on where it stands on the fishing extension issue. The fishermen have been so upset in the past couple of years that they formed a group of their own to fight against issues such as the fishing extension, low fish prices and issues with local buyers.


As the cod stocks grow in zone 3Ps, quotas are expected to increase. And with crab stocks declining, inshore fishermen are becoming more reliant on cod.


Yet, the total allowable catch (TAC) in fishing zone 3Ps hasn’t been taken in recent years. Some processors have said that if inshore boats can’t catch the full quota, then the processors should be allowed to go after the remaining quota with larger boats in the winter.


The inshore fishermen say they are capable of landing the full TAC, but cannot because local processing companies are not buying the cod when the inshore fishermen are able to fish it.


Fitzpatrick said the meeting on Friday was “hot and heavy.” The issues of fish being dumped, where the union stands on it all and the reason DFO granted the fishery were all discussed.


“I asked (DFO officials) how many fish do they need to do their research? They said they are trying to get 100 fish per week, that’s it.


“So, for the last week we had four boats land in Fortune alone, each one of them had between 100,000 to 150,000 pounds of fish on them. But they only wanted 100 fish … a bit of overkill, right? To get 100 fish, kill half a million pounds.”


As for the reports of the dumping of fish, Fitzpatrick noted, DFO officials said they were only aware of one such report.


Fitzpatrick said they also learned the union had agreed to some fishing for scientific purposes, but not to full-fledged fishing by the draggers on the spawning grounds.


Last week, FFAW/Unifor president Keith Sullivan said it was the union that requested the meeting with DFO to discuss the matter to address the south coast fishermen’s concerns.


“I can’t be more clear on this,” Sullivan said. “The FFAW did not support draggers fishing on spawning aggregations of fish.”


DFO has also stated some fish harvesters on the south coast had indicated the timing of the traditional 3Ps cod spawning closure does not reflect when the cod actually spawn.


“Through the consultation process for this stock, the inshore and offshore fleets requested flexibility to fish during the traditionally closed period, which runs from March 1 to mid-May,” last week’s DFO statement read.


Fitzpatrick, however, said the majority of inshore fishermen in the zone are standing firm, and they want the draggers off the spawning grounds immediately. He said whether the cod are gathering to spawn, or spawning, doesn’t matter.


“When that cod is gathering out there this time of year … aggregating is still part of the dance, we’ll say,” Fitzpatrick said.

“What we are saying is we don’t want any fishing on that stock when it’s vulnerable. Whether anyone will listen, we don’t know."


Organizations: Department of Fisheries and Oceans, FFAW/Unifor, Allied Workers/Unifor

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