Nfld. & Labrador

Pandemic summer brings a boost to N.L.'s recreational food fishery

DFO compliance officer Daryl Walsh says almost 8,000 vessels took part over 39 days this summer.

Fishery numbers similar to 5 years ago, says DFO compliance officer

DFO senior compliance officer Daryl Walsh says the recreational food fishery saw a boost in fishermen in 2020. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

A pandemic couldn't stop people from getting out on the water for the recreational food fishery this summer, with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans reporting around 8,000 vessels leaving the docks.

DFO compliance officer Daryl Walsh said Tuesday that the fishery this year "went quite well."

"We seen a bit of an increase in participation levels this year, perhaps due to COVID and people at home wanting to get a day outdoors or out on the water," he said.

Walsh said this year's fishery, which lasted from July 4 to Sept. 7, was dominated by Newfoundland and Labrador fishermen but did have some participation from people in other provinces.

The approximately 8,000 reported vessels is an increase of about 1,600 from 2019, with 37 violations, 22 charges issued and 15 written warnings from enforcement officers.

"We definitely seen a bit of an uptick in the numbers, probably back to levels like they were four to five years ago," he said. "We were happy with the level of compliance we seen this year, because even though we had increased inspections, our violation numbers actually decreased this past year."

Walsh said the most common violation was fishermen exceeding the limit of five fish per person, which he says is in place to help future stocks for the northern cod.

About 8,000 fishing vessels participated in the recreational food fishery this year, up nearly 1,600 from 2019. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

"We're trying to strike a balance here, between giving people access to the resource but also trying to stay within conservation limits," he said.

"Our northern cod is still considered a species that is … still within the critical area for recovery. We want to ensure that we balance and give people access to the resource, but also that the conservation of the fish is considered as well."

In terms of how much fish was brought to shore over the 39-day fishery, Walsh said the department doesn't know yet how much fish was brought to shore over the 39-day fishery.

But the average size of a fish caught was down about four to five centimetres this year, he said. At maturity, cod range from 45 to 55 centimetres.

"The fish was reported a little bit smaller. But along many of the headlands along the northeast coast and so on, people had very good catch rates and could catch their quota of fish relatively quickly. And there was also some nice fish landed amongst that."

Walsh said the data gathered from this year's fishery will factor into decisions for next year, which is already being gathered by DFO officials.

"Hopefully that helps them make decisions for the upcoming fishery for the next year and so on as time goes by this fall and winter."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Mark Quinn

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