‘Harvesters can’t be permitted to harvest whenever they want’


FFAW-Uniform President Keith Sullivan was correct in a letter published in the Weekend Telegram — the latest news on the health of northern cod isn’t cause to “panic.”

Indeed, it’s reason for inshore harvesters to riot in the streets, or, at the very least, burn the few union cards still in existence, and to demand an independent investigation of the management practices of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

The management plans for the northern cod fishery in each of the last two years are the work — NOT of the DFO/Ottawa, which is constitutionally responsibly for fisheries management — but of the FFAW-Unifor and the Barry Group.

The story is clearly laid out in information obtained through the federal Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) Act, and proves that DFO has all but given up on management/science of northern cod. 

It also answers the question of who’s the manager, and who’s the union?

The FFAW/Unifor is both. 


The union executive (secretary-treasurer Dave Decker) and Bill Barry were behind the creation of the NL Groundfish Industry Development Council (NL-GIDC) in November, 2015, with an agreement in principle signed in March 2016. 

The very next month, on April 8th, the NL-GIDC was officially announced at a press conference at the Ramada Hotel in St. John’s.

On May 5th, Jim Baird, a 35-year veteran of DFO (mis) management, including a stint as regional director-general, was appointed chair.

Four days after that — on May 9th, 2016 — a meeting took place between Baird, FFAW-Unifor executive, representatives of 5 processing companies, and senior DFO bureaucrats in NL at the department’s White Hills headquarters in St. John’s.

DFO’s Jacqueline Perry wrote a summary of the meeting, including the following points on the management approach for northern cod:

• “NL-GIDC should have a lead role on the development of the commercial harvesting strategy.”

• “NL-GIDC will develop and deliver a plan for stewardship once we know what the minister’s decision is on harvest levels.”

• “Need to move beyond three week summer seasons and manage the timing of supply (avoid product gluts). Need an 8 month season.”

• “Need to get rid of IQs…harvesters cannot be permitted to harvest whenever they want. Change won’t happen. Monthly/weekly harvest limits needed.” 


On June 1st, the NL-GIDC presented a management plan based on those conditions to the Northern Cod Advisory Meeting. 

Dom LeBlanc, the DFO Minister, signed off on the plan on Aug. 4th, 2016, and the season opened 11 days later.

It took four and a half months from the announced creation of the NL-GIDC to the development/implementation of its northern cod management plan. 

A lightening strike in terms of DFO’s usual speed, and no consultation whatsoever with inshore harvesters. 


The 2016 NL-GDIC management plan for northern cod included the elimination of individual quotas (IQs), weekly harvest limits, and an extended season. 

Not only were inshore harvesters NOT consulted about the most important document since the 1992 northern cod moratorium, but the management plan was kept secret from them.

The NL-GIDC’s plan was finally released to the public on Nov. 24, 2016 after a copy was obtained by FISH-NL during a meeting on Fogo Island.


Northern cod has been an icon for fisheries mismanagement, and it’s actually getting worse. The NL-GIDC's 2017 northern cod management plan was also adopted by DFO. 

In 2016, northern cod catches were estimated at up to 10,000 tonnes, plus the harvest from the food fishery (which wasn't measured). 

In 2017, the NL-GIDC estimated removals of northern cod of up to 19,000 tonnes, plus the food fishery (removals still aren't measured).

In mid March. DFO scientists said the northern cod stock has declined by about 30 per cent from 2017 to 2018, with further declines predicted in 2019.

The NL-GIDC got it wrong.