Nova Scotia

Mackerel catch limits coming to recreational fishery in Atlantic Canada

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans intends to impose a daily catch limit of 20 mackerel per person for recreational fishing — ending the days of keeping as many mackerel as you want.

DFO says it’s closing a loophole in an unregulated fishery

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans plans to impose tighter restrictions on recreational mackerel fishing. (CBC)

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans intends to impose a daily catch limit of 20 mackerel per person for recreational fishing — ending the days of keeping as many mackerel as you want.

It also plans to create a closed season for recreational angling from January to March, and slightly increase the minimum size to 26.8 centimetres for recreational and commercial fishing.

Adam Burns, DFO's director general of fisheries resource management, said the measures will ensure a sustainable recreational fishery and conserve a population that department scientists say is in decline.

The most recent stock assessment in 2018 reported the spawning population is down 86 per cent from pre-2000 levels, and the number of mackerel surviving to breed is at an all-time low.

"This is a step in the direction of ensuring that we're protecting the mackerel stock and working to rebuild that to a more sustainable level," Burns said in an interview from Ottawa.

The department said the daily bag limit will remove the potential for large-scale harvesting under the guise of a recreational fishery.

Adam Burns is the director general of fisheries resource management with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. (CBC)

Right now, there are no rules on recreational mackerel fishing, leading to unlimited landings.

"Some commercial licence holders, including bait licence holders, use this current loophole to land significant quantities of mackerel using gear not permitted under those commercial licences, as well as to avoid having to report landings and the associated costs of dockside monitoring," the department said this month in a public consultation notice containing amended fishery regulations.

The notice said it is not uncommon for some "recreational" Atlantic mackerel fishing vessels to land more than 500 kilograms per day.

DFO scientists estimate there are between 2,000 and 5,000 tonnes of unreported mackerel catches per year from various sources.

Six-year-old Foster Langille, Ryan Langille's son, poses with a catch in August. (Submitted by Ryan Langille)

"There were instances where we had concern that some were using the open recreational fishery as a means to meet their bait requirements, and that results in less reporting to us," Burns said.

Kaite Schleit of Oceans North, a charitable organization focused on marine conservation, applauded the new measures but said DFO can't stop here.

"We haven't seen the department really take the actions that are needed," she said.

"We also fear that this is being done as a way to claim a kind of victory and claim action at the expense of actually doing the hard thing, which is reducing the total allowable catch for the commercial fishers."

Ryan Langille, a bait dealer from Pictou County, N.S., said DFO surveys have consistently underestimated the stock because its annual surveys have missed the peak mackerel spawning period in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

He said this year the department captured the spawning period accurately and he predicts the next stock estimate will be larger.

The bag limits, he argued, are unnecessary.

"I don't think it's right to start regulating recreational anglers. I mean, there's not enough recreational activity to hurt that fishery," he said.

Public consultations on the new regulations end Nov. 7.

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Paul Withers

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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.

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