There has been a major shift in local leadership at the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) table, as neither FFAW president Earle McCurdy nor long-time industry bureaucrat Ray Andrews will be returning as Canadian commissioners.

McCurdy will effectively be replaced by well-known Renews fisherman Gerard Chidley, who has an extensive industry background and previously served as the chair of the now-defunct Fisheries Resource Conservation Council (FRCC).

Sources tell CBC News that Ocean Choice International (OCI) CEO Martin Sullivan is the leading candidate to fill the other vacant commissioner's position.

Chidley told The Fisheries Broadcast that he had been approached about the job several months ago, even though it only became official in recent days.

"I thought it was a good time to come aboard," Chidley said of his interest in taking on the role.

"There's a lot of things happening in the ocean right now that I think an industry perspective is kind of what's needed. The guys that were there before me did a good job and I just hope I can continue in that role."

Canada's voice at NAFO table

The two commissioner jobs — along with the head of delegation position, which is currently held by France Pegeot, the senior assistant deputy minister of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) — are essentially Canada's "voice" at the table of NAFO.

The positions are usually appointed by the federal cabinet, and cover a term of two years in most cases.

In addition to the three leadership roles, the Canadian delegation also includes a group of "advisers" from various sectors of the fishing industry. At this point, it appears McCurdy will be staying on in an advisory role. 

Lots of controversy

NAFO has long been a source of controversy and intrigue since its inception in 1979.

The organization's role is basically to manage and monitor fish resources between all the member nations — including countries in North America, Asia, Europe and the Caribbean — that fish in the NAFO convention area off the east coast of Newfoundland. 

That business has proven tricky over the years, given the rise and fall of different fish stocks, the changes in science and technology, and even changing political tides in member states.

Gerard Chidley

Gerard Chidley, centre, is seen during a July 2010 interview with CBC News. (CBC)

One of the hot-button topics among fisheries observers in Newfoundland and Labrador when it comes to NAFO, however, is the ongoing issue of illegal fishing practices by foreign vessels.

Chidley says with some groundfish stocks showing signs of rebounding, he feels it is important to maintain strong enforcement and to put "safeguards" in place to make sure the practices of the past don't get repeated in the future.

"Our goal is to maintain conservation and protection for us and for sustainability of our resources for Canadian fishermen, plus recognizing the shares that other countries have," he said, adding that Canada also has a large fishing presence outside the 200-mile limit.

"We have anywhere from 80 to 120 vessels that actually fish about 40 or 50 per cent of their crab outside 200 miles... to say there's not a lot of Canadian vessels on the water, that's a bit of a misconception," he said. 

Chidley says he's also anxious to see more science being done on the declining 3L shrimp stocks.

"There might be something happening [in] the ocean," he said.

"The fact that we're not using acoustic estimations for biomass may be hurting us in one sense and that would be something that needs to get done in the future — let's have a look at what's in the whole water column."