Nova Scotia

Atlantic Canada mackerel quota cut by 20 per cent

Some in the fishing industry say the quota cut is unnecessary, while environmentalists say it doesn't go far enough.

Move will reduce a key source of bait in the region's lucrative lobster fishery

Fishermen check their mackerel trap in Nova Scotia's St. Margaret's Bay in this 2006 file photo. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans is cutting the Atlantic mackerel quota by 20 per cent in 2019, after a recent assessment concluded the stock remains in the "critical zone." 

The quota cut will reduce a key source of bait in the region's lucrative lobster fishery.

In a notice sent to industry, the department said the region-wide total allowable catch will drop from 10,000 tonnes to 8,000 tonnes.

Ottawa is also increasing the minimum size for fish in the commercial fishery from 263 mm to 268 mm.

That is in line with a new scientific calculation from the fisheries department that predicts the larger size requirement will ensure 50 per cent of mackerel caught will have reached sexual maturity and have had a chance to spawn.

Divided reaction

Some in the fishing industry say the quota cut is unnecessary, while environmentalists say it doesn't go far enough.

Ryan Langille, a lobster bait broker in Nova Scotia's Pictou County, opposes the reduction.

"I think it's an unjust cut to a quota for no good reasoning," says Langille.

Langille maintains the stock is in better shape than claimed in the federal government's stock assessment, claiming grey seals are taking more mackerel than fishing.

FFAW-Unifor, the organization that represents fishery workers, echoed Langille's comments, saying the biomass of mackerel has been underestimated and the quota was set "at a unacceptably low level."

The scientific surveys have not taken into account the mackerel which are spawning in the northeast coast, it says.

"If significant numbers of mackerel are spawning on the northeast coast, then the southern gulf survey would be missing those fish and underestimating the stock," Erin Carruthers, a FFAW-Unifor fisheries scientist, stated.

However, environmentalist Katie Schleit said the fisheries department has managed to make a cut without drastically altering the fishery.

"It's a step in the right direction but it's a small step," says Schleit, senior fisheries adviser with Oceans North, a non-profit conservation group.

"Scientific projections show that 8,000 tonnes only has a 51 per cent chance of building that stock out of the critical zone and ultimately we want the stock to be healthy again," she said.

Shannon Arnold of the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax says the fisheries department is allowing overfishing to continue.

"For such an important fish that is central to many of our fisheries and for all the birds, whales, and other fish that depend on them, I fear this decision will lead to mackerel's continued decline and just make things even more difficult in the future," Arnold said.

Other measures for 2019

The fisheries department said it will also implement new gear restrictions and reporting requirements to improve monitoring of landings in the commercial and bait fisheries In "some fleets" in Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

A temporary freeze on new commercial licences started in 2017 will continue.

About the Author

Paul Withers


Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.