PEI

Redfish, new fish? P.E.I. planning for possible reopening of redfish fishery

Island fishermen and the province are working together to make sure P.E.I. gets its fair share of the redfish quota if the federal government reopens the industry in the future.

25-year-moratorium could be lifted as redfish stocks continue to increase in Gulf of St. Lawrence

The redfish species, which is a deep-water groundfish, has notably increased in number recently due to three strong years of population growth, the province said. (Submitted by Marine Institute)

Island fishermen and the province are working together to make sure P.E.I. gets its fair share of the redfish quota if the the federal government decides to reopen the industry in the future.

A significant increase in redfish stock in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is spurring an interest in reopening redfish harvesting after a moratorium has been in place for nearly 25 years.

A renewed commercial fishery would be at least two years away, said Dave MacEwen, P.E.I.'s manager of marine fisheries. Other provinces will be looking for their share of the quota as well, and he wants to make sure Island fishermen are "full participants."

"There's been a lot of history here from the Island and we'd like to continue with that. It was a very viable industry and a lot of employment here."

3 strong years of growth

The redfish species, which is a deep-water groundfish, has notably increased in number recently due to three strong years of population growth, the province said. Today, it is estimated that there are 2.5 million tonnes of redfish in the Gulf. P.E.I. had its first recorded redfish landings in 1959 and harvested the stock up to the time of the moratorium.  

'Anytime the plants can operate at a higher efficiency, can extend their season, that helps on a number of factors,' says Ian MacPherson, executive director of the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

During the last major period of fishing in the 1980s and early 90s, more than 50 trawler men and 300 employees from the Island worked at a year-round fish plant in eastern P.E.I., according to the province.

To prepare for the possible reopening of the redfish fishery, DFO has approved a two-year experimental fishery with Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec.

Experimental fishery

The objectives of the experimental fishery include:

  • Studying both redfish species — Sebastes mentella makes up 85 per cent of the stock while Sebastes fasciatus is just 15 per cent — with a goal of being able to concentrate on fishing the more abundant mentella.
  • Refining mesh and other gear to avoid catching fish under 22 centimetres.
  • Avoiding bycatch such as halibut and cod.

Ian MacPherson, executive director of the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association, said reopening the fishery presents a new opportunity for P.E.I., and his group will be "vigilant" to make sure there is fair and equitable distribution among the provinces.

"Anytime the plants can operate at a higher efficiency, can extend their season, that helps on a number of factors," he said.

"It puts money in the harvesters' pockets, it helps the plants run more efficiently, it provides more employment for a lot of people, so they're all positives. So we're going to be very aggressive and focused on this."

More P.E.I. news

With files from Brittany Spencer

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