DFO stops fishing for herring and mackerel on the east coast

Federal Fisheries Secretary Joyce Murray announced on Wednesday that there will be no commercial fishing or bait fishing for Gulf of St. Lawrence herring and Atlantic mackerel in Atlantic Canada and Quebec.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) said urgent action was needed to give stocks a chance to recover and ensure the long-term sustainability and prosperity of the East Coast fisheries.

But the decision does not sit well with the fishing community.

“We are shocked by this radical decision by Secretary Murray,” said Martin Mallet, the executive director of the Maritime Fishermen’s Union, which represents more than 1,300 fishermen.

“We are shocked by the impact of this decision on our fishermen [and] the coastal communities and workers who depend on this fishery.”

Many commercial lobster crews use mackerel to lure their traps. (Paul Palmer/CBC)

Herring and mackerel play a vital role in both fisheries and ocean ecosystems. They are an important food source for other species, including tuna and Atlantic cod. But they are also a traditional source of bait in many commercial fisheries, including lobster, snow crab, and halibut.

“We’re not sure how this decision will affect overall bait supply and access, or price,” Mallet said.

Mallet said the closures would have an “atomic bomb impact”.

He said DFO had not contacted the union about the closures prior to the announcement.

The sentiment was echoed by officials from the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union, who said fish harvesters were “shocked” by Wednesday’s announcement. The union’s chairman, Keith Sullivan, said in a statement released Wednesday that fishermen will suffer as a result of the decision.

“The announcement of a moratorium on mackerel fishing is another example of how [the Fisheries Department] and Secretary Joyce Murray would rather eliminate livelihoods than do the actual work that needs to be done,” Sullivan said

The moratorium should not come as a total surprise. DFO has taken many measures in recent years to supplement the species. For herring, it has introduced daily catch limits, minimum mesh size in nets and restrictions on total size and number of nets.

But the measures weren’t enough, as stocks have reached what DFO calls a “critical zone.” Now DFO hopes that reduced fishing will help stocks mature and reproduce.

Katie Schleit, senior fish advisor at Oceans North, a charitable organization that promotes scientific and community-based conservation programs, wasn’t surprised by the announcement.

“This kind of news is hard to digest, but it has taken a long time,” she said. “These two specific forage crops have been severely depleted for over a decade and unfortunately this was the only decision left to make.”

The closures will be re-examined by DFO after the next stock assessments.

Food, social and ceremonial fisheries for First Nation communities remain open for both herring and Atlantic mackerel.

Recreational fishing for mackerel will also remain open, but the daily limit of 20 mackerel set last year will be maintained.

Leave a Comment