Nfld. & Labrador

Groundfish council won't support federal cod stock program

The Newfoundland and Labrador Groundfish Industry Development Council says it can't support the federal government's recently announced cod stock rebuilding plan.

'The rebuilding plan has to be more of a complete document,' says Jim Baird

The Newfoundland and Labrador Groundfish Industry Development Council doesn't support the federal government's cod stock rebuilding plan but is open to further discussions. (SubC Imaging)

The Newfoundland and Labrador Groundfish Industry Development Council says it can't support the federal government's recently announced cod stock rebuilding plan, saying it's too restrictive and won't allow the industry to rebuild along with the fish.

Jim Baird, chair of the NL-GIDC, says the group was completely surprised by the announcement, which came just days before Christmas. 

Baird said the fishing industry was in talks with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans about a cod recovery plan in the spring of 2018 and there wasn't a consensus on a way forward.

"And then nothing at all, practically, until the announcement on Dec. 21. So that was kind of a shock to the system for many of us," Baird told CBC Radio's The Broadcast

Baird said the rebuilding plan rightfully identifies the main issue surrounding stock rebuilding as natural mortality, but the plan is to push fishing mortality even lower than current levels, which means harvest levels will not keep pace with stock rebuilding but will add further stress to a rebuilding industry. 

Baird wants to see further surveys done on the impact of seals and capelin stocks, adding the entire plan appears to be based on limiting the catch for harvesters and not other sources that could be impeding the development of cod stocks. 

Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan says harvesters can still fish, but the biomass of cod stocks needs to get to a specific level before increasing the fishing effort. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

"They briefly touched on seals. They didn't say much about that at all, actually. They talked about capelin a little bit in the plan, but they didn't make any reference to new scientific information or even developing any," he said. 

"The rebuilding plan has to be more of a complete document that has science considerations, research recommendations, economic discussion, talk about coastal communities and the reliance on the fishery." 

While his group can't support the plan, Baird said, he'd like to continue having meetings to discuss it. 

Minister open to further discussions

Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan says the cod stock rebuilding plan doesn't mean harvesters can't fish, but the idea is to have an economic benefit while rebuilding a long-term cod stock. 

"The biomass needs to get to a specific level before we can increase fishing effort. Right now we can continue to fish, but as the biomass grows we need to make sure that it gets to a certain level before we can increase that effort," Jordan said.

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Jordan said the plan is not etched in stone and her department will continue to work with DFO to make sure they have the "best available information" when making rebuilding plans. 

"It is an evergreen plan; we'll continue to monitor it, we'll continue to have discussions," she said. 

"But we knew how important it was to move forward with a plan, and that's one of the reasons why this rebuilding plan had to be done as quickly as it was."

Ghost gear clean up

Meanwhile, the federal government's ghost gear fund — used to clean up abandoned fishing gear in the ocean — cleaned up 63 tonnes of abandoned gear on the Atlantic coast in 2020. 

"It was everything from traps, pots, rope to all of the things left behind from storms," Jordan said. "But for me it wasn't just about getting it out of the ocean, it was making sure that this didn't end up in the landfill."

A number of projects under the fund recycled ocean waste, turning some into biodiesel and patio furniture. 

About 80 per cent of the cleaned-up gear came from the Bay of Fundy, 14 per cent came from the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and six per cent came from waters off of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

"It's an extremely important program that we would like to see expand," Jordan said. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The Broadcast

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