Nfld. & Labrador

DFO says south coast cod numbers down, but groups critical of new data model

A new way of estimating the size of the stock indicates the area known as 3PS is worse than previously thought, and the numbers have dipped to a critical level.

'This new assessment model is overly pessimistic,' Atlantic Groundfish Council

Cod off the south coast of Newfoundland are in the critical zone, says Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientist Karen Dwyer. (Todd O'Brien/CBC)

Cod stocks are at critical levels off the south coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, according to the new model used by the Department of Fisheries and Ocean, but several groups are highly critical of the new formula for estimating the number of fish.

According to DFO, the new model indicates there is less cod than once thought off the south coast. The specific area is known as 3PS, and extends from Cape St. Mary's to just west of Burgeo and includes areas fished by St-Pierre-Miquelon harvesters.

That area would need to have a spawning biomass of 66,000 tonnes to no longer be considered a critical zone — but currently only has a quarter of that amount, a benchmark known as the limit reference point. 

Even if there was no fishing permitted in the area this coming season, the stock is predicted to decline further.

DFO says the natural mortality of the fish caused by predators and changes to the environment is around three times that of fishing mortality.

As well, fewer young fish are being produced, according to the agency.

The Fish, Food and Allied Workers union wants DFO to close the 3PS cod fishery to offshore trawlers. (CBC)

The latest figures provided by DFO on Wednesday were compiled by combining "commercial landings dating back to 1959, research surveys by DFO, France, and industry, plus sentinel surveys of the inshore," according to DFO. 

The previous model relied only on bottom trawl survey data that was gathered by DFO's research vessel.

'Overly pessimistic' data

But at least two organizations are slamming the new way DFO compiles its data. 

"We strongly believe this new assessment model is overly pessimistic and understates important data collected by [DFO's] own research vessel survey," said Kris Vascotto, executive director of the Atlantic Groundfish Council, in a press release.

The group, which represents offshore processors and harvesters, takes aim at what it calls several shortcomings with the new model.

One of those is DFO including data from the sentinel fishery for the first time ever. The council said the sentinel survey covers only a small area of the entire 3PS stock area and is focused outside of where the stock actually resides. 

FFAW president Keith Sullivan says seals, in their roles as a predator, should have been considered. (Todd O'Brien/CBC)

The Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union is also highly critical of the new assessment model, arguing the new limit reference point was hastily implemented without consulting people in the industry.

FFAW president Keith Sullivan said in a written statement the department did not take into account how much of a role seals as predators play when it comes to declining cod stocks. 

"Addressing seal predation and removing offshore draggers is within our control and it's time for the new minister to take immediate action before the impacts cannot be reversed," said Sullivan.

A decision on how much fishing may be allowed in the zone will be released in the coming weeks.

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