Fisheries Minister LeBlanc to make decision on northern cod fishery in April

With cod stocks again on the decline — by a shocking 30 per cent, according to DFO — the federal fisheries minister says he is taking action soon.

Minister says seals are a big factor, but solutions are not simple

Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc fields a question at a news conference at a meeting of Atlantic Canadian politicians in Moncton, N.B. on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

With cod stocks again on the decline — by a shocking 30 per cent, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) — the federal fisheries minister says a decision about the fishery will be made within two weeks.

Dominic LeBlanc said there are a series of factors at play, but one is the grey seal — an animal thought to cause as much as 50 per cent of natural deaths among full-size cod, according to DFO scientists.

"There's no doubt that the seals represent a significant challenge," LeBlanc said in the House of Commons on Tuesday. "I've had this discussion with industry all over Atlantic Canada. The solutions aren't simple with respect to seals."

LeBlanc said the federal government has been speaking with the provincial government, to industry and Indigenous groups to "understand what their views are of the scientific advice."

Fisher harvesters were counting on a cod recovery after declines in species like shrimp and crab. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

While he said a decision on the northern cod fishery was imminent, LeBlanc also said he'd make a decision on the capelin fishery.

The tiny fish are known to be an indicator of how cod stocks are doing, and any decision made regarding that fishery is expected to have an impact on the recovery of northern cod.

We'll hear from a fisher, the Groundfish Industry Development Council and a research scientist at Memorial University. 24:17

From rebound to decline again

Newfoundland and Labrador declared a moratorium on cod in 1992. The stock had been rebounding since 2012 and some harvesters had returned to commercial fishing under much smaller quotas than 25 years ago.

DFO increased the northern cod quota from 4,000 tonnes in 2015 to 10,000 tonnes in 2016 and upwards again to 13,000 tonnes in 2017.

Cod stocks have taken a dive again in Newfoundland and Labrador, with a 30 per cent decline in 2017, according to DFO. (Jane Adey/CBC)

But at a news conference last Friday, it announced the stock had taken a sharp turn downwards again. Scientists now estimate the total stock at 315,000 tonnes.

According to DFO, the biggest reason was a spike in the natural mortality rate. The department expects a further decline in 2018.

"These large increases in natural mortality can happen, and they're very hard to predict," said DFO scientist Karen Dwyer last week.