Nova Scotia

Canada cuts Atlantic mackerel quota in half to 'rebuild stock'

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans says the 4,000 tonne reduction is needed to conserve depleted stock.

Quota to be released in two phases to ensure access for Newfoundland fishermen

A fisherman sews a new section of netting into a mackerel trap in Peggy's Cove, N.S. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Citing conservation concerns, Canada has slashed the quota in half for Atlantic mackerel, from 8,000 tonnes last year to 4,000 tonnes this year.

"This is a difficult decision that has economic impacts on commercial harvesters and their communities, but the science is clear: stronger actions need to be taken to rebuild the Atlantic mackerel stock," said Federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan in a news release Friday.

The department said the quota will be released in two equal amounts, with one release now and one release later in the summer.

That will help ensure fishermen in Newfoundland — where mackerel arrive later in the year — get access to some quota.

In late spring/early summer, Atlantic mackerel migrate northward from off the United States, where the stock is harvested, into Canada.

Mackerel arrives first in Nova Scotia and then moves northward into the Gulf of St. Lawrence then to Newfoundland.

Martin Mallet of the Maritime Fishermen's Union, which represents 1,250 inshore harvesters in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, responded to the quota cut.

"The demise of yet another sustainable fishery because of the unsustainable seiner component and U.S. effort," he tweeted, referring to a type of fishing boat. "This has got to stop or the next chapter will be a complete closure in the next few years."

Mackerels swim through U.S. waters before reaching Canada. (Jean-Pierre Muller/AFP/Getty Images)

"The department will continue to engage the United States on joint conservation objectives, and is focused on improving the monitoring of, and reporting on, this important stock," DFO said in a statement. 

Commercial landings exceeded $10 million in 2018. More importantly they are a key bait in the $1.5 billion lobster fishery.

Still, DFO was under pressure from environmentalists to cut the quota because of their place in the food chain. As a "forage fish" they are eaten by larger predators such as whales, tuna and seabirds.

"We are pleased that DFO finally listened to the scientific evidence," said Katie Schleit of Oceans North, an environmental group.

"While not the best option on the table, this decision is a first step toward increasing the population of Atlantic mackerel to a level where it can sustain the ecosystem and harvesters once again."

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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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