There are plenty of fish in the sea … but can we make a buck fishing them?

Fishermen in Newfoundland and Labrador are rethinking the resources at their disposal, given collapsing quotas for crab and shrimp, and a cod stock that has not yet recovered enough for a full commercial fishery. 

"You need to be in four to five fisheries to add up to what we had when we had the crab," said Winston Pitcher, who has had his individual crab quota go down by 80 per cent over the past seven years.

To make up for it, he's got licences for four other species: sea cucumbers, whelk, scallops, and bluefin tuna.

There could be gold in the bycatch

The cod moratorium forced a lot of fishermen to look to other species to make a bit of money. According to Scott Grant, senior biologist at the Marine Institute's Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Resources, the first place they'd look for a new commercial species is their own fishing nets.

Crab on the Burin Tradition

A load of crab comes over the side of the Burin Tradition, Winston Pitcher's fishing boat. (Winston Pitcher)

"A lot of these animals were out there and everyone knew they were out there but they were just caught as bycatch," he said.

"Once the fisheries collapsed the question was, are there enough of those animals out there to sustain a few fishermen to make some money at it?"

If a harvester thinks he's got a profitable new species that could sustain a small commercial fishery, he goes to Grant to get it studied.

They'll go out on the boat and collect samples, determine the size of the juveniles and the size of the adults, and map out a five-year plan for a fishery.

The fishermen is on the hook for some of the cost for the research, but it can ultimately be a worthwhile investment.

"If you start it off right and you collect the information that allows you to manage it in a sustainable manner, then if it costs half a million dollars or even if it's $2 million to collect all the data, if at the end of the day, it's a $10 million a year fishery and if that can last for 50 years, well, I think you've done a good job," said Grant.

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