Herring, mackerel stocks may need years to recover, experts say
Moratorium announced on commercial fishing of mackerel, herring, which play 'outsized' role in ecosystem
A recently announced moratorium on commercial fishing of mackerel and herring off the East Coast is necessary to allow the stocks to recover, researchers with Fisheries and Oceans Canada say.
And it may take longer than one year.
"It may take several years," said Matthew Hardy, regional director of science with Fisheries and Oceans.
"A lot of that will depend on whether we get favourable conditions for recruitment and that those fish that are currently in the water are given a chance to spawn and those larvae are able to grow up and reach maturity and then produce the next generation."
The fishing ban applies to herring in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Atlantic mackerel in Atlantic Canada and Quebec. DFO said March 30 urgent action had to be taken to give the stocks a chance to recover and to ensure the long-term sustainability and prosperity of East Coast fisheries.
Fishermen who use herring for bait have expressed concern about the moratorium. But Hardy said herring stocks have been in the "critical zone" for about two decades, and previous conservation methods have not produced the desired results.
Herring and mackerel play an "outsized" role in the ocean ecosystem and deserve extra protection, he said.
"They are so important to the ecosystem overall that if they're not there, then the whole ecosystem doesn't function the way it should. And that's why it's really important to make sure that they're given a chance to recover and given a chance to rebound in order to support the fisheries and the ecosystem in the future."
Elisabeth Van Beveren, who studies mackerel at Maurice Lamontagne Institute in Quebec, said mackerel numbers have also been in the critical zone, and relatively unchanged, for the past 10 years.
She also believes a one-year moratorium may not be enough.
"It takes time to have an effect on the population; that's one thing. And then the second element is that, not only does the stock need to increase, but we also have to be sure that we observe that increase before you could scientifically say, 'OK, the stock is rebuilding and it's getting better and maybe you can increase catches again.'"
In response to questioning from Liberal MLA Hal Perry in the P.E.I. Legislature Tuesday, provincial Fisheries Minister Jamie Fox said he is seeking clarity from DFO about whether the U.S. will implement a similar fishing ban to help the stocks replenish.
Fox said he understands the concerns of the fishermen as the spring lobster season approaches.
"We're trying to make sure that we have supply for our fishers for them to go forward with a fisheries season."
With files from Sheehan Desjardins