Nova Scotia

Fisheries minister angling for joint Canada-U.S. management of depleted Atlantic mackerel stock

Canada is lobbying the United States to add Atlantic mackerel to the list of transboundary fish stocks jointly managed by the two countries on the East Coast — but so far has not landed an agreement.

DFO has been criticized for imposing Canadian shutdown when fishing continues in U.S. waters

Federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray discusses Canadian concerns about the state of shared Atlantic mackerel stock in this Dec,2  virtual meeting with her US counterpart Richard Spinrad (right) administrator of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.
Federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray discusses Canadian concerns about the state of Atlantic mackerel stock in this Dec. 2 virtual meeting with her U.S. counterpart, Richard Spinrad, right, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

Canada is lobbying the United States to add Atlantic mackerel to transboundary fish stocks jointly managed by the two countries on the East Coast — but so far has not landed an agreement.

The appeal comes after Canada imposed a total moratorium on all commercial mackerel fishing in 2022  to rebuild the depleted shared stock. The Americans kept fishing, albeit with a reduced quota.

Minister raised concern with U.S. counterpart

"We don't support the fact that we had closures because the stock was in critical condition and the United States were fishing essentially that same stock," Canada's Fisheries and Oceans Minister Joyce Murray told a parliamentary committee Friday.

Murray's remarks are a more public stance on what has been a quiet effort by Canada to persuade the United States to jointly manage a species both countries say is in trouble.

Murray said she expressed her concerns in a virtual meeting earlier on Dec. 2 with her U.S. counterpart, Richard Spinrad, who leads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA.

Murray said Spinrad was sympathetic.

"He wants to invoke the precautionary principle, which in my view, wasn't happening adequately. We agreed that we share our approach to this and in two months there will be meetings between NOAA and DFO to discuss our assessments and build a better approach to rebuilding mackerel."

Mackerel fishing will continue in U.S. waters in 2023

NOAA spokesperson Katherine Silverstein confirmed Wednesday that bilateral fisheries science meetings are scheduled for February to discuss stock assessments "but there is no formal management agreement for this species"

"NOAA Fisheries and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council are committed to rebuilding the Atlantic mackerel stock. A more conservative rebuilding plan is in the final stages of development to address this goal," Silverstein said in a statement to CBC News.

The American rebuilding plan will see a quota of 3,639 metric tonnes in U.S. waters in 2023. Its 2022 quota was 4,964 tonnes which was down from 17,300 metric tonnes the year before.

The 2023 Canadian mackerel quota will be set later in the year after a new scientific stock assessment is presented to fishing industry representatives and environmental groups.

U.S. fishermen catch million of pounds

DFO has been criticized by opposition Conservative MPs and fishing industry groups who question the point of imposing a Canadian shutdown when fishing continues on the same stock in U.S. waters.

Mackerel that spawn in the Gulf of St Lawrence migrate to the United States to overwinter.

According to U.S. data, last month American fishermen caught 1.5 million pounds or 680,000 kilograms of mackerel on Stellwagen Bank, off of Massachusetts.

"We're doing all these sacrifices here in Canada, for nothing," says Martin Mallet, executive director of the Maritime Fishermen's Union.

Canada's mackerel moratorium has been the subject of hearings at a standing committee on Fisheries and Oceans this fall.

"As long as there is a fishery in the U.S., decreasing the TAC — total allowable catch — in Canada does not aid in rebuilding the stock," said Melanie Giffin, a biologist with the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association.

"To add insult to this scenario, fishers in Canada are forced to buy undersized mackerel from the U.S. to use as bait," she told MPs last month.

Katie Schleit, with Oceans North, an environmental group based in Halifax, is disappointed Canada has not yet persuaded the United States to agree to joint management.

"This is a shared stock and so having both countries work together towards rebuilding is in the interest of both. We have a shared history of collaboration. I think not having it is to the detriment of the fishermen and the fish population," she told CBC News.

Schleit was unaware of the extent of Canadian lobbying.

"It was new to me to hear that this high level of formal engagement and request for joint management has been occurring."

Canada's behind-the-scenes lobby

During parliamentary hearings, DFO disclosed its outreach involving senior bureaucrats and Murray has been underway for months.

"Two months ago the minister wrote to her counterpart at NOAA to press the case. We would like to see a formal bilateral relationship to manage this fishery," senior director of resources Todd Willams told the committee.

Canada and the U.S. already jointly manage cod, haddock and yellowtail flounder on Georges Bank, a shared fishing ground off southern Nova Scotia, DFO has stressed the price paid for Canadian conservation measures.

"Canadian harvesters have made a very significant sacrifice to help rebuild the stock and are hopeful that this will be recognized and respected," DFO director general Mark Waddell wrote to Mike Luisi, chair of Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, which helps manage fishing in the United States.

"Going forward, we encourage you to advocate for complementary measures in your waters," Waddell wrote.


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.