Nfld. & Labrador

Fisheries union calling for 'significant' quota increases amid growth of northern cod stocks

The union representing fish harvesters and processors in Newfoundland and Labrador is calling for 'significant' increases in the quota of northern cod, but scientific experts want a cautious approach as the stock rebuilds.

DFO still urging cautious approach to harvesting; reports biomass grew by 7 per cent over one year

Fisheries and Oceans says the cod stock is still in a 'critical zone,' and is calling for a cautious approach to harvesting. (Hans-Petter Fjeld)

The union representing fish harvesters and processors in Newfoundland and Labrador is calling for "significant" increases in the quota of northern cod, but scientific experts want a cautious approach as the stock continues to rebuild.

"It's absolutely critical that we have increases in the quota," David Decker, secretary-treasurer of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union, said Monday.

'We're optimistic'

Decker made the comment following an update on the stock from the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Biologist Karen Dwyer told reporters the overall biomass of northern cod in division 2J3KL — a large area of ocean off Newfoundland and Labrador's east coast — grew by seven per cent from 2015 to 2016.

That's consistent with a rebuilding trend that began about a decade ago, but the stock is still years away from reaching the 1980s benchmark that preceded the northern cod moratorium 25 years ago.

Karen Dwyer is a stock assessment biologist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

"Although we're optimistic, I think part of the information that I spoke about today indicates that we are still in the lower half of the critical zone," said Dwyer. "So even though there is optimism, we're gonna have to temper that with a little bit of patience."

Capelin abundance a factor in recovery

The latest assessment of the spawning biomass of northern cod is 300,000 tonnes, which is one-third of the benchmark some say is needed before a large-scale commercial fishery can even be discussed.

Harvesters have already benefited from this growth, with commercial landings of northern cod reaching 10,000 tonnes in 2016, a spike of nearly 60 per cent over the previous year.

Scientists like Dwyer won't put a timeline on how long it will take the stock to fully rebuild. She said that depends on a number of factors, including the abundance of capelin, which is the primary food source for cod.

But with valuable shellfish stocks such as crab and shrimp on a steep decline, the chorus of voices calling for larger quotas of cod is growing.

The snow crab and shrimp industries received some bad news earlier this year, with the announcements in February that snow crab stock is down 40 per cent since 2015-16, while shrimp is down 25 per cent over the previous year.

Decker says cod growth 'phenomenal'

Meanwhile, David Decker described the growth of cod stocks over the last decade as "phenomenal," and said the current rate of harvesting is not having an impact on the rebuilding.

David Decker is secretary-treasurer of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

He said the process of rebuilding the cod fishery is already under way, and predicts it will take another five years for it to reach its full potential.

"This change is happening in the ecosystem, and we need to prepare for it because let's understand that our communities are based on the wealth that we bring from the ocean and with this change coming, there's changes coming for our communities and our industry," he said.

About the Author

Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.