Fishery of the Future
Conference and TradeShow

Notes for an Address by:
Mr. Fred Woodman
Chairman - Fisheries Resource Conservation Council


Placentia, Newfoundland - February 18, 2021

Good Evening

I want to begin by thanking you for that warm introduction. I really do feel as if I am among old friends, and judging by all the familiar faces in the room, I am.

I am especially pleased to be here as part of your conference: the shape of the fishery of the future is something which we all need to spend more time considering.

I remember fishing with my grandfather Fiander during summer holidays with line and trawl in Fortune Bay. I also remember working with my grandfather Woodman at his plant doing salt cod and fresh salmon. I should point out that my grandfather Woodman was my mentor and he directed me into the fishery. From this, I started my own operation and I am proud to say that it is still operating today as Woodman Sea Products. It has been quite the ride and I have enjoyed every moment of it!

My first message to you is that those who choose to ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Fortunately, many of us have been around long enough to have a good understanding of that history, given that we created it!

If someone had told me in 1960 about a Global Positioning System or one under 45 foot boat would fish 100 gill nets, we would have thought they were nuts. At that time, we would have treated someone who was talking realistically about Canada having control over our 200-mile limit as an idle dreamer.

Even in the 1970’s, if someone suggested that we could determine the origin of the different stocks of cod off southern Newfoundland by DNA analysis or through genetic fingerprinting of the fatty tissue we would have laughed and scratched our heads.

If someone as late as the early 1980’s suggested we could fish northern cod – one of the greatest natural resources in the world – down to the point of collapse, we would have accused them of being Chicken Little "the sky is falling, the sky is falling"

And finally, if someone had told me that I would be the Chairman of a Council of fishing industry people and scientists who would recommend conservation measures to the Minister, I would have said "What are you smoking!".

But all of this is the world in which we now live.

We have the technology to fish quotas down to the last fish (and I would say we came pretty damn close). With the advances we have made in vessel design and in the efficiency of all gear types, fish no longer have a place to hide. There is no longer a natural refuge where man can’t find the fish.

Although we created new technologies, we haven’t yet reached the point where we have sufficient knowledge and accurate enough science to control those technologies. Perhaps we may never have enough knowledge, but I think we can do better than we do, and certainly better than we’ve done in the past.

Fishing starts when you put the line or the trawl over the arse of the boat. We need to get a handle on what’s happening on the water from the moment the fishery begins and not just at the dock when the catch is brought to shore.

When the FRCC was created in 1993, it was based on some fundamentals: the commitment to a comprehensive approach to the conservation and management of our resources and the commitment to a more effective role in decision-making for those with practical experience and knowledge in the fishery. The Council was formed as a partnership between government, the scientific community and the direct stakeholders in the fishery. Its mission is to contribute to the management of the Atlantic fisheries on a sustainable basis. We do this by trying to foster a better relationship between science, fisheries managers, and fishermen.

When I was a youngster in New Harbour, Trinity Bay, my grandmother Woodman would take me to church. I may not remember a lot from those services but there are a few things that have stuck with me. One of those is what we were taught about Advent. Advent, for those of you not from the Church of England or Roman Catholic traditions, is the season of preparation for Christmas. For Advent, we were told that we should read, mark, learn and inwardly digest. In many ways, I feel this is what we have done in the fishery since moratoria were announced.

We have read – I have never read so much, or seen so many studies in all my life as I have over the past seven years as I tried to understand what had happened.

We have marked – we can point to many of the problems and we know what the critical issues are.

We have learned tremendous amounts about the fishery and I do hope that most of us have learned from what we have done in the past.

We have inwardly digested what we have learned and how we arrived at this point in our history. We have looked at the role the foreigners have played, the role seals have played, the effects of cold water and, sometimes, we’ve even looked at the role we played and the effects of what we did as fishermen and processors in the way we mistreated the resource with the technology and the information we had at our disposal.

And, if you will permit me to continue with my ecclesiastical analysis, it is now time to move forward on the church calendar. From Advent, which was preparation, to Christmas, the season of new hope, and maybe even as far as Easter, rebirth and second chances.

It’s time to put what we learned into action and to get to a point where we better understand the effects of what we are doing.

In July of 1997, the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council released one of its most comprehensive reports, A Groundfish Conservation Framework for Atlantic Canada. In this report we devoted a lot of time and energy to putting a plan together that would help us to achieve the four goals we set forward:

  1. Rebuilding our depleted fish stocks,
  2. Sustainable utilization of those stocks once rebuilt,
  3. Establishing conservationist practices, and
  4. Optimizing the benefits from the resource.

I would like to talk to you about how the Council is pursuing these goals as it relates to the 3Ps cod fishery.

Rebuilding depleted fish stocks:

In 1993, in its first report to the Minister, the FRCC recommended a moratorium on the fishing of this stock, the second largest cod stock off Newfoundland. In 1997, after indications that the stock was recovering, the Council recommended the reopening of the commercial fishery, at a cautious level of 10,000t. Signs in that fishery were good, the DFO surveys were showing increased abundance, acoustic surveys were showing increased population strength, as were the sentinel surveys, and for 1998, the Council recommended an increase to 20,000t. For 1999, the Council succumbed to the mounting euphoria, and recommended that the catch be increased to 30,000t.

I have no difficulty saying that I think this was a mistake: we had come too far, too fast. Indications of a lack of small fish, a 25% decline in the Total Biomass estimate, a concentration of fishing effort in a limited area and in a limited time, a massive change in the gear used – from long-lines to gillnets this year have led us to recommend that the fishery be curtailed significantly for the year 2000.

Sustainable utilization

Sustainability is the meeting of needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

In order to achieve sustainability, appropriate conservation measures must be implemented. These measures must adapt to improving technology and deal with social and economic factors which create pressure for maximum, and often short-term, yields. Added to this are our poor understanding of fish populations and their natural variability.

One fundamental principle for achieving sustainable utilization of the resource is the need for adequate information. Without such information, our management and harvesting activities will be ineffective and often inappropriate.

If we are to gain the confidence of the fishing community, fishers must not be seen only as "data collectors" for science but should be fully involved at every step of the scientific process regarding groundfish stocks. Joint science-industry initiatives have to continue to be encouraged, they need to be expanded, and they need to be coordinated. Without such help, we would know a lot less about the groundfish resources off of southern Newfoundland.

As an example, Sentinel fisheries have proven to provide valuable information and should be pursued in order to create a long-term fully usable database. Sentinel fisheries involve fishermen working closely with scientists to fish in a manner where there catches can be compared from year to year and place to place.

Index fishermen programs were implemented some years ago by scientists and should be expanded. Fishermen also participate in survey work by undertaking offshore surveys with scientists: these surveys, sponsored by the Groundfish Enterprise Allocation Council have become very important in the development of our knowledge of the stocks.

Having said all this I want to make it clear that the FRCC recognizes the importance of DFO Science research surveys as one of the major tools in stock assessment. In a context of very limited commercial fishing activity due to fisheries closures or restrictions, we view these surveys as a critical source of information about the status of groundfish stocks. We have been critical of the conduct of these surveys, but our criticism is not based on their scientific design or validity, nor as a criticism of the individual scientists. Our criticisms are really based on the budgetary restrictions imposed on DFO Science.

As I have said, in order to achieve sustainability, appropriate conservation measures must be implemented. These measures are to:

Without going into a lot of detail, the Council feels that its recent report goes a long way to laying the groundwork for the sustainability of the 3Ps cod stock, in order that is will meet the needs of my, and your, grandchildren, and their grandchildren.

We know for example that older fish are more successful spawners than younger fish, and we therefore conclude that a broad age structure is a vital component of the reproductive capacity of the stock. In other words, we must have a population of fish that contains all ages, and not be fishing only the big fish.

Establish conservationist practices

Our Conservation Framework established principles to guide us in reaching the goals of sustainability. The principles are:

Optimizing the benefits

This final goal is perhaps the easiest to describe, but ultimately the hardest to achieve.

Optimizing benefits from the resource does not mean catching as much fish as fast as we can. It means making sure that we can draw a long-term benefit from the stock.

We can do this by fishing at sustainable levels, minimizing waste, catching fish large enough to be used, and proper handling practices that would maintain or increase the income for less fish being killed.

I give you a concrete example of how this goal is not being achieved. Does it make sense, in today's world market for premium fish, that the prime Canadian white fish, cod, is being cut and frozen into cod block? We are taking a prime resource, and turning it into a commodity. Do beef farmers make hamburger from filet? Why do we?

A major driver of turning our cod into a commodity is what we have known for too long as the tragedy of the commons: we have too many people chasing too few fish. We may limit the number of boats on the water, but they are increasingly powerful, with better locating devices, and more efficient technology. This overcapacity perpetuates the race for the fish. We need to maximize our economic advantage from the fishery while minimizing our impact on the resource: this is a dichotomy which we can and must resolve.

I hope that I haven't spoken too long, and kept you away from the Fishermen's Ball, but I want to leave you with these parting thoughts.

There was a window of opportunity, after the extension of the 200-mile limit, to plan a fishery for the future.

In 1977, we failed to realize how depleted our fish stocks were, especially northern cod. We failed by not giving these stocks time to recover from the tremendous beating they had taken in the late sixties from foreign fleets. In 1968, 1.5 million tonnes of cod were taken from Canadian waters; most of it, 850,000 tonnes, from 2J3KL and most of this was taken by foreign boats. In 1977 we declared our 200-mile limit and from 1978 to 1986 we set about increasing the TAC year after year. We replaced foreign effort with Canadian capacity of equal or greater technology.

We missed the window of opportunity the extension of the 200-mile limit had given us.

A window remains open, however very narrow. It scares me to think that we just might repeat the mistakes we made in 1978 again in 2000, by not having the patience to let stocks recover to sustainable levels.

If we miss this last window of opportunity, the failures of the past will be repeated again – and history will deal with us harshly.

Thank you