May 6, 2020
1999 CONSERVATION REQUIREMENTS from FRCC for GULF of ST. LAWRENCE GROUNDFISH STOCKS and COD STOCKS in Divisions 2GH and 3Ps
(St. Johns, Newfoundland) -- The Fisheries Resource Conservation Council (FRCC) released today its annual advice to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans for conservation requirements for Gulf of St. Lawrence groundfish stocks and cod stocks in divisions 2GH and 3Ps.
For the most part, stocks are showing signs of improvement and the Council is recommending increased Total Allowable Catches (TACs) for some. But stocks have not yet rebuilt to the levels seen prior to the moratoria.
"The sacrifices the fishing industry has made over the past number of years is beginning to pay off," said FRCC Chairman Fred Woodman "but if conservation does not remain our number one priority, the health and sustainability of our stocks will very quickly again be in jeopardy."
During consultations with stakeholders it was clear that there continues to be a considerable divergence of views between fishers and scientists regarding the state of groundfish resources. Discussions within the Council on what level of catch should be set for each stock is becoming increasingly difficult as the Council must pick and choose between the scientific evidence and the information provided by fishers. In the end, the Council must be guided by the precautionary approach and the need to ensure the long-term sustainability of the resource.
The Council also notes the major effect of the environment on marine resources. For the third consecutive year, water temperatures from Labrador to the Grand Banks generally showed near or above normal values. Air temperatures over the Gulf were also warmer, and air temperatures over most of the northwest Atlantic were above normal continuing the warming trend of the past 2 years, with 1998 ranking within the top 5 -15% of the warmest years on record.
The Council believes that the 3Ps cod stock continues to improve and is recommending an increase in the TAC to 30,000t. The Council is of the view that the stock has rebuilt to its current level primarily because the 1989-90 year classes have been protected. Unfortunately, it appears some fishers are increasing their mesh sizes (gillnets) in order to target these larger fish. The Council firmly believes these larger fish must be protected.
In making its recommendations, the FRCC recognizes that, although the 4RS3Pn and 4TVn cod stocks are adjacent, their ecosystems are quite distinct and different. For instance, the 4T area supports species like American plaice and white hake, while the 4RS ecosystem supports species like capelin and shrimp. Historically, the Northern Gulf Cod stock has been approximately 1.5 times more productive than the Southern Gulf Cod stock. According to scientific assessments, Northern Gulf Cod is recovering more rapidly. FRCC recommendations reflect these considerations as well as other factors such as improved recruitment, geographical distribution and the fish condition factor.
The Council recommends a 6,000t TAC for this fishery for 1999 but continues to be concerned with the current depressed state of the stock and the possibility of decline. Although the Council has recommended an increase in TAC it continues to be concerned about the long-term well-being of this stock if appropriate action is not taken to protect the incoming 1995-96 year classes.
"This is clearly one stock where we are going from risk avoidance to risk management," stated Mr. Woodman "and the Council wants to make it clear that major changes in the TAC are unlikely in the near future."
There are positive trends in this stock but the Council remains cautionary. There is near-universal agreement among scientists and fishers that this stock is still at low levels, compared with historic levels. Although fishers believe that the biomass level may be higher than that suggested by DFO Science, the Council is of the view that key rebuilding indicators remain depressed.
The Council believes that, a TAC of 7,500t, not concentrating on the 1993 year class, and rigorous conservation measures, will ensure continued improvement in the stock biomass. Though an increase is warranted, the conduct of the fishery could have a significant impact on the health of the stock next year.
The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans requested that the Council not make recommendations on catch levels for this stock at this time. However, to address immediate existing problems, it is important to make a number of observations and recommendations on this stock now. The Council believes it important to continue joint fisher/science information-gathering programs such as the Sentinel Fisheries Program which should also involve the tagging of fish. These programs must start without delay.
"We cannot wait until decisions are made later in the year on possible levels of catch in any limited commercial fishery or expanded index fishery. The collection of information needed for future scientific assessments must begin now," said Mr. Woodman.
The Council is also struck by the difficulty in determining a possible separate inshore biomass component along with its level. The Council believes in the value of acoustic surveys for all stocks and encourages the Department to make more use of such surveys, particularly in this instance.
"Fishers see increasing amounts of fish in inshore bays and are finding it harder and harder to accept the standard view of a single-stock biomass, "said Mr. Woodman. "There must be a way to determe if there is a separate inshore biomass, and if so, at what level it is. The necessary work must begin immediately on this problem."
Finally, the shrimp fishery in 3K must be closely monitored for bycatch, especially in the Hawke Channel.
4RST Greenland halibut
The Council believes this stock is at its long-term average and recommends an increase in the TAC from 4000t to 4500t.
Recreational and Food Fisheries
With respect to recreational and food fisheries, the FRCC continues to recommend that in areas where moratoria exist there be no recreational or food fisheries. The Council also recommends that no fishery, whether commercial or recreational, should be permitted to proceed unless proper monitoring systems are in place to account for total removals.
As in previous years, the expanding seal population issue was raised at all consultations as a frustrating impediment to the recovery of groundfish. The accumulated evidence from scientific assessments, as well as the consistent, continual, and corroborating information from fishers throughout Atlantic Canada is such that the FRCC is convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that the recovery of groundfish stocks, notably cod, will continue to be jeopardized if the seal herds remain at their current levels. It should also be noted that the present populations of seals, especially harps, are at or near their carrying capacity. Among its recommendations for ways of dealing with this issue, the Council advocates reducing the seal population by up to 50% in specific areas and using such reductions as a basis for scientific study and adaptive management
Other Groundfish Stocks
The FRCC makes the following recommendations for other stocks: no directed fishing for 2GH cod and 4T white hake; a TAC of 300t for 4T yellowtail flounder in the Magdalen Islands area; maintenance of total removals of 4RST witch flounder at 800t; capping the TAC for 4T winter flounder at 1,000t; total removals of 4T American plaice set at 2,000t; and increasing the TAC for 4RST Atlantic halibut to 350t.
The FRCC continues to advocate the need to reduce capacity in the groundfish fleet, even with recent reductions and increasingly good signs in many stocks. Conservation must still come first and the Council is committed to its mandate to rebuild Atlantic groundfish stocks back to their long-term levels.
Client and Public Relations