Mackerel fishery closed unexpectedly, leaving some fishermen short bait

The inshore commercial mackerel fishery closed early for the first time in the fishery's history, and some Island fishermen don't have enough bait.

P.E.I. Fishermen's Association wants better way to track actual catch numbers

For the first time in the history of the Atlantic Canadian commercial inshore mackerel fishery, it was closed two-and-a-half months early. (iStock)

Atlantic Canada's commercial inshore mackerel fishery closed early for the first time in the fishery's history, and some Island fishermen don't have enough bait. 

The chair responsible for mackerel with the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association, Chuck White, was shocked when he got the news. 

"Wow, it's never been closed before," said White. 

He said it's leaving some fishermen in a tight spot. At least half the fishermen he has spoken with in Eastern P.E.I. don't have enough bait for next year's lobster season. 

"There's some guys saying they still need some bait, and if the fishery's closed, not to be reopened, then they're going to be looking at buying it come spring." 

Half the fishermen in Eastern P.E.I. don't have enough bait for next year's lobster fishery because of the early closure. (Laura Chapin/CBC )

White said it's much cheaper for fishermen to fish the bait themselves and freeze it over the winter, something many of them do in November. More than 1,200 P.E.I. fishermen catch mackerel commercially. 

Could be positive sign 

Last year, he said the quota was the same, at 8,000 tonnes for Eastern Canada, and not all of it was caught by the end date of Dec. 31.  

"Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe the mackerel are rebounding and we're going to be into a recovery fishery here. We're hoping anyway," said White.  

But one of the challenges is getting accurate catch numbers.

DFO, in an e-mail to CBC, said it is difficult knowing how much has been caught because some fishermen, including ones in P.E.I., do not directly report their landings through either dockside monitoring or log sheets.

DFO said it based the closure on monitored and logged landings in other areas of Atlantic Canada and Quebec. 

Slim chance fishery could reopen

Fisheries and Oceans Canada said there is a slim chance the inshore fishery could reopen if the offshore fishery doesn't catch all it's allowed, but White said he knows of a number of fishermen who have already pulled their boats.

The P.E.I. Fishermen's Association says it's crucial DFO and fishermen work out an accurate and timely way to report catch for next year's mackerel season.

"It would be nice to get it reopened if there's room in the fishery. I mean this is all about conservation too right. We gotta make sure we have the fish for the future, and we can't catch them all in one day and expect it to be there tomorrow," he said. 

Quotas were lowered a number of years ago in order to take pressure off dwindling stocks, and maybe this is evidence that is working. 

In its email, DFO said "While signs this year of significant catches in some areas are positive, we need to ensure harvesting decisions do not impede this stocks rebuilding." 

DFO said a stock assessment for Atlantic mackerel will be done this winter which should confirm if the stocks are rebuilding. 

Figure out accurate way to report catch

White said he knows one thing for sure. He wants DFO and the fishermen to work together this winter on finding a way to accurately report catch information in a timely way, to take any guesswork out of the fishery in the future.

He said, last year, P.E.I. fishermen suggested submitting self-reported logs on a daily or weekly basis, but White said DFO has been pushing for dockside monitors to call in each day's catch.

White said that is a challenge with more than 1,200 boats in the fishery and most of them arriving at their wharf at the same time each day, where there is usually only one monitor.