FISH-NL's presentation to federal MPs

On Tuesday, April 11, FISH-NL made a presentation to the province’s federal Liberal caucus in Ottawa, including recommendations on how to deal with the current fisheries crisis.

 The presentation was made by Ryan Cleary, President of FISH-NL, and Richard Gillett, Vice-President. Included is a recommendation that commercial inshore harvesters be permitted to keep ALL bycatch caught with hook and line and gillnets, and another that DFO allow flexibility in this year harvesting rules, including allowing harvesters to buddy up.

FISH-NL presentation to NL’s federal Liberal caucus 

7 p.m., Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Ottawa, Ontario 

The crisis facing Newfoundland and Labrador’s inshore fishery today is unprecedented, and in many ways worse than the collapse of groundfish stocks in the early 1990s.

Twenty-five year ago (this is the 25th anniversary of ’92 northern cod moratorium) inshore fish harvesters around the province turned to other species such as crab and shrimp to make up for the collapse of groundfish. 

But stocks of most commercial species in waters around Newfoundland and Labrador are on the decline or remain delicate in terms of rebuilding. 

The northern shrimp quota in waters off the Great Northern Peninsula and southern Labrador (the fishing zone most inshore harvesters are most reliant on) was slashed in March by 62.6 per cent — to 10,400 tonnes this year from as high as 48,000 tonnes two years ago. (The inshore sector in Area 6 is only entitled to 7,239 of the 10,400-tonne quota.) Bankruptcies are imminent and harvesters are getting desperate. 

The total allowable catch for snow crab is also down 22 per cent compared to 2016. The biggest hit area is fishing zone 3L, east of the Avalon Peninsula, where the bulk of the quota is harvested. The quota there has been cut by 26 per cent, down to less than 25,000 tonnes. In fishing zone 3K, the crab quota has been cut roughly 80 per cent over the past decade. 

Areas such as Newfoundland’s south coast (fishing zone 3Ps) have experienced a collapse of crab and lobster stocks. The cod quota there is also expected to be cut in the coming weeks (from 13,000 tonnes to less than 7,000 tonnes). Harvesters there say they’re at death’s door. 

While northern cod is showing signs of improvement and some harvesters are calling for increased quota (scientists, meantime, still classify the stock as “critical”), the price per pound last year averaged 60 cents — not enough to help harvesters transition from shellfish to groundfish.

Inshore harvesters are buried in bureaucracy and fees. 

The NL fishery is at a breaking point and the primary reason is the Government of Canada’s gross mismanagement. 

While the decline in northern shrimp is seen as more of an environmental consequence than a result of overfishing, DFO has a responsibility to effectively manage the fisheries and their cyclical nature. 

It has failed to do so. 

DFO science has been gutted by years of budget restraint under successful Liberal and Conservative administrations. 

The true testament of DFO’s management success must be the health of fish stocks, as well as the Department’s understanding of the overall ecosystem. 

The Department has been a complete and utter failure in both regards. 

As one harvester from the Great Northern Peninsula put it: “Another generation, another resource, and the same old song and dance.”



  1. Given the dire circumstances facing much of the NL fishery, FISH-NL recommends that commercial inshore harvesters be permitted to keep ALL bycatch caught with hook and line and gillnets.
  2. FISH-NL recommends that DFO introduce flexibility in this year harvesting rules. DFO can’t magically produce more fish, so the Department must do all it can to make it easier for harvesters to get through the current crisis and keep their heads above water. FISH-NL recommends DFO implement a buddy-up pilot project to help harvesters cut down on expenses. Such a project would cap the number of buddy ups at two, and be restricted to licence holders who actually fish. Buddying up (or joint ventures) would be permitted between fleets and between harvesters in different fishing zones. 
  3. DFO must review the numerous federal fees charged to inshore harvesters with an eye to immediately reducing them, and cutting costs to harvesters.
  4. FISH-NL recommends an immediate ban on all offshore factory-freezer trawlers fishing groundfish in Canadian waters. The principles of adjacency and historical attachment were adopted by the federal government in eliminating the Last-in, first-out policy in the northern shrimp fishery. Those principles must be carried over to all fisheries off Newfoundland and Labrador so that the primary beneficiaries of the resource are coastal communities and inshore harvesters who live there. Further, all foreign quotas of species such as turbot caught inside Canadian waters should be available to the inshore fleet to catch — not just the offshore sector.
  5. FISH-NL recommends the federal government initiate an independent, external review of the management/science capabilities of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans in relation to the dramatic decline of key stocks off Newfoundland and Labrador.
    Crab, shrimp, caplin, and south coast cod are all said to be in simultaneous free fall, if not outright collapse, and the common theme is DFO (mis) management. Decades of cuts by federal Conservative/Liberal administrations have left DFO a shadow of its former self. As scientists retired they weren’t replaced, and stock assessments often weren’t carried out because of the decrepit state of the Canadian Coast Guard fleet. DFO also appears prepared to contract out its constitutional responsibilities for fisheries management — as outlined under the Terms of Union with Canada — to groups such as the FFAW/WWF, which in December 2016 revealed a rebuilding plan for northern cod. Rebuilding plans are the  sole responsibility of DFO, which, again, has failed spectacularly in its constitutional responsibility. Too many East Coast fisheries have failed over too many years while fisheries elsewhere in the world have collapsed and rebounded. That hasn’t happened here. Why?
  6. The Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization must be disbanded, with Canada taking custodial management of the Nose and Tail of the Grand Banks and the Flemish Cap. NAFO’s mandate includes most fishery resources outside Canada’s 200-mile limit, but the organization is toothless, unable to enforce the quotas it sets. NL’s inshore harvesters say they are growing fish stocks inside Canadian waters for foreign trawlers to harvest outside. The NL fisheries will never rebound so long as DFO management/science remains weak, with an even weaker management/enforcement regime governing migratory stocks in international waters.
  7. Canada must take immediate action to control the burgeoning seal herds off the East Coast. As late as March 29th, John Brattey, a scientist with DFO, was publicly questioning the diet of harp seals. The fact that in 2017 federal scientists are still scratching their heads over the diet of the millions of harp seals off NL's shores is unbelievable — and a complete condemnation of the Government of Canada's commitment to rebuilding East Coast fish stocks. Inshore harvesters have collected information on the contents of seal stomachs for upwards of 20 years (data paid for by the federal government), raising the question of what’s happened to that information? FISH-NL recommends the federal government formulate a plan to reduce the seal population, at the same time that it strengthen marine science and the study of the overall North Atlantic ecosystem.
  8. FISH-NL has called for an immediate halt to the fishing of northern shrimp by factory-freezer trawlers in Shrimp Fishing Area (SFA) 6, the waters off Newfoundland’s northeast coast and southern Labrador that inshore shrimp harvesters are most reliant on. In light of the severe cut to the Total Allowable Catch of northern shrimp in SFA 6, FISH-NL requests that the federal government reserve the limited quota solely for the inshore fleet, and ban fishing altogether when shrimp are spawning. Further, FISH-NL requests that Ottawa assign a quota of northern shrimp to the inshore fleet in SFA 5 further north off Labrador. Priority must be given to the inshore harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador — the economic pillars of our rural communities adjacent to the northern shrimp resource.
  9. Given the state of today’s fisheries, harvesters will be pushing the limits in terms of chasing species further out to sea. The minimum boat size should be increased to 44'11 from 39'11 to allow harvesters safer vessels if they so choose. Harvesters licensed to fish should be able to do so safety. Also, vessel length regulations should be standard across Atlantic Canada. Why is it that every other province can have a stern extension while DFO NL region is proposing to eliminate it?
  10. FISH-NL recommends that DFO consider in-fleet rationalization. The maximum number of combinable licenses must be increased to allow fishers to have a profitable enterprise. This would allow harvesters who have little to get out, and allow those who choose to stay to have something to catch, while at the same time costing government nothing. Such a move must be done in such a way as to not jeopardize the owner operator, fleet separation policy.



  1. FISH-NL recommends a 10,000-tonne index cod fishery. The first 10,000 tonnes of the quota off the south coast must be the exclusive jurisdiction of the inshore fishery. DFO science has  recommended a cut in the 3Ps cod quota, which was set at 13,000 tonnes in 2016 (although only 7,000 tonnes were caught). In 2015, just 42 per cent of the cod quota was caught. It’s expected that this year’s quota will be set below 7,000 tonnes. When the cod fishery was reopened in 3Ps in 1997 the first 10,000 tonnes were reserved for the inshore. Offshore trawlers were not permitted access.
  2. FISH-NL recommends a 250-tonne halibut quota. 2015 was the first year there wasn’t a directed halibut fishery in 3Ps, as most halibut was caught by larger vessels, the majority from outside the province. FISH-NL also recommends reinstitution a year-round halibut bycatch BACK to 10 per cent.
  3. FISH-NL recommends inshore scallop harvesters be granted access to all three beds on the St. Pierre Bank. Harvesters are currently restricted to fishing on the northern scallop bed. They want permission to once again fish in the other two areas — the Southern and Middle beds. Those beds have been reserved for the offshore fleet from Nova Scotia since 2006, when — upon the recommendation of David Hooley — the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans implemented fleet separation for sea scallops. 
  4. FISH-NL recommends DFO issue more fishing permits for sea cucumbers on the Southern and Middle beds of the St. Pierre Bank. Harvesters would like to see more permits issued, but with conditions. In order to make a permit a permanent licence a harvester must have fished sea cucumbers for two consecutive years, with a minimum number of pounds landed. 
  5. Ottawa must compensate Placentia Bay lobster fishermen for catching green crab, an invasive species brought into the area by oil tankers. Green crab has been eating small lobster and seagrass, habitat for the lobsters. Lobster have practically disappeared from Placentia Bay. 
  6. The minimum length of herring must be reduced to 9.5 inches from 9.75. The tolerance for undersized is currently 10 per cent, which should be increased to 15 per cent.
  7. FISH-NL supports an enterprise buyout for 3Ps fishing licences, reducing the number of active harvesters. Any such buyout program should be overseen by a government agency — not a union. FISH-NL must be given an opportunity to consult with its 3PS membership and offer advice on the criteria for eligibility, the approval process details, and methodology for determining enterprise value. Harvesters in 3Ps say two-thirds of the under 40-foot fleet should be bought out (over 200 harvesters in Placentia Bay alone), and one-third of the supplementary, over 40-foot fleet.
  8. The fixed gear inshore fleet in Fortune Bay must be allowed to use tuck seines in the herring fishery (the same as they’re permitted in the mackerel fishery), and the same as other fleets around the province.  

1) The 4R crab fleet (the western side of the Great Northern Peninsula) requests access to Area 13 in the Strait of Bell Isle. The area is primarily reserved for  crab harvesters from Quebec, even though the area is immediately adjacent to NL communities in area 4R. NL harvesters want access to the area that was there’s to start with. Also, NL harvesters in Area 12 pay DFO a fee for their licence IQ of $137 a tonne, vs. $95 a tonne by Quebec harvesters in Area 13, and $87 a tonne in area 14. Why the discrepancy in federal fees in different areas?


  • FISH-NL supports an immediate return to the spring herring fishery in 3L. DFO decided recently to eliminate the spring fishery in 3L upon the request of the FFAW.


• The cod quota on the Flemish Cap has apparently been set at 15,000 tonnes, but only 200 tonnes has been set aside for Canadian harvesters, who are desperate for fish. 

• During a recent NAFO meeting in Vigo, Spain, representatives of the Canadian offshore sector apparently lobbied for an increase in the turbot quota. The inshore sector is quite capable of fishing turbot, and Canada only reportedly fishes 7 per cent of the entire quota. The inshore requests a turbot quota. Inshore harvesters should also permitted to keep their turbot caught above their quota. Regulations state that turbot caught in excess of the quota must be discarded when the fish is dead. FISH-NL requests turbot harvesters be allowed to bring in whatever is caught in their nets. 

• The east coast otter trawl fleet is looking for redfish in fishing zone 3L. While NAFO has increased the quota, the fleet had asked for access to redfish but was denied.

• Factory-freezer trawlers are built overseas tariff free (as are all vessels over 30 metres). One inshore harvester signed a contract to have a 27.4-metre vessel built overseas. The contract is 40 per cent cheaper than having the ship build in Canada, but subject to a 25 per cent tariff — which is discriminatory to the inshore sector.

• In NL, a harvesters must have a boat registered in their name for a minimum of 12 months, meaning they cannot lease a boat to another harvester. That doesn’t make sense with most boats tied up for 80 per cent of the year. In all other provinces, harvesters can lease a registration for 30 days. FISH-NL recommends that DFO begin to institute “East Coast policy” that’s uniform to all Atlantic provinces and quebec. 

• FISH-NL recommends DFO institute a 36,000-tonne Atlantic-wide mackerel fishery for 2017. Last year’s quota was set at 8,000 tonnes. It’s also recommended that DFO undertake study to determine whether mackerel is genetically connected to the Norway/Greenland/Iceland stock.