Newfoundland and Labrador cod fishers call for reinstatement of Northern cod moratorium

FFAW-Unifor, Canada's leading fishing union, calls on the federal government to restore stewardship and stop offshore draggers in the commercial Northern cod fishery.
Fishing boats moored on docks at a small Atlantic fishing community in Newfoundland, Canada.

Fishing boats moored on docks at a small Atlantic fishing community in Newfoundland, Canada.

Photo: Adobe Stock.

Late last week, the Canadian federal government ended the moratorium on the commercial Northern cod fishery off Newfoundland and Labrador's north and east coasts. Following that announcement, now the country's leading fishing union, FFAW-Unifor, has called for its immediate reinstatement.

"As a province, we are demanding the federal government return our important Northern cod resource back to a stewardship fishery and ensure the species is protected as it continues to rebuild," said FFAW-Unifor President Greg Pretty.

Demanding the government to reimplement 2023 fishery rules

The union - which represents more than 10,000 professional, owner-operator fish harvesters in the province - demands the government to reimplement all 2023 fishery rules, return to a stewardship fishery, and reaffirm the commitment to ban offshore draggers until 115,000 mt.

"Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised in writing in 2015, that the 115,000 mt commitment from 1982 would be protected, and that inshore harvesters would be the primary beneficiaries of the Northern cod stock. But here we are at a quota of around 19,000 t and the Trudeau Government is already letting the offshore draggers back onto the water," Pretty continued.

Newfoundland and Labrador cod fishers claim that the stewardship fishery should remain in place until the 115,000 metric ton threshold is reached, and that only thereafter should the offshore dragger group be allowed access. Till that moment, the union says, the only beneficiaries of this historical and economically critical fishery should be the inshore, owner-operator fishery, and Indigenous groups.

"We need to protect our plant workers, our owner-operator harvesters, and the long-term sustainability of our coastal communities," FFAW-Unifor President added.

Glen Winslow, a member of the Inshore Council, who also participates in the internal working group for the 2J3KL Northern cod fishery, spoke along the same lines. "Reverting back to a stewardship fishery is the only way forward here," he said.

"This fishery needs to be protected for generations to come, and breaking the 115,000 mt promise and allowing draggers back in already is going to do irreparable harm to our fishery, our coastal communities, and our province as a whole," Winslow stated.

"We will not sit by and let it happen"

In its statement last week, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) spoke of "responsible reopening," claiming that the end of the Northern cod moratorium would support well-paying jobs in the commercial fishing and processing industry and generate significant economic benefits for the Newfoundland and Labrador economy.

To this end, a quota of 18,000 tons was approved, of which the inshore fleet sector will receive approximately 84% percent of the TAC, 20% of this inshore sector allocation will be provided to 2J-based harvesters, and 6% of the TAC to the Canadian inshore fleet.

However, as WeAreAquaculture reported last week, what on paper is a "historic milestone" is less so for practical purposes, as that TAC of 18,000 tons actually represents an increase of only 5,000 tons over last year.

The Northern cod stock 2J3KL has been in the precautionary zone since 2016 and in recent years DFO itself has managed, under strict conditions, a limited fishery that last year allowed a catch of 13,000 tons.

Therefore, in the face of the return to commercial status and allowing offshore draggers to access the stock, Newfoundland and Labrador cod harvesters would prefer to keep the fishery in the stewardship status it has been in for the past 32 years.

"The inshore fleet has ample capacity to fish this stock and breaking promises and permitting environmentally destructive draggers is counterintuitive to the Government of Canada’s mandate. As a province, we will not sit by and let it happen," FFAW-Unifor President Greg Pretty concluded.

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