Time to change the cod fish­ery


The re­cent news of fish plant clo­sures and talk of the im­por­ta­tion of for­eign work­ers; of an­nual hal­ibut quo­tas be­ing caught in one day while other fish­er­men lose their lives fish­ing hal­ibut in the dead of win­ter; of lim­ited quo­tas of cod with catch rates higher than they were in past years when fish were deemed to be plenty.

Those head­lines and oth­ers like it in­di­cate there is a se­ri­ous prob­lem with the man­age­ment of fish har­vest­ing in this province.

Here are some news clip­pings/facts I’ve read in the past year.

• Oceanex is hav­ing a new, state-of-theart con­tainer ship be­ing con­structed, a ves­sel that will be launched in Bre­mer­haven, Ger­many, this year.

• Costco is sell­ing semi-dry cod for $17 per kilo­gram, or about $865 per quin­tal.

• The con­sump­tion of salt cod in Por­tu­gal, Spain and the West Indies is still quite high.

• Since the ad­vent of con­tainer traf­fic, goods can be sent any­where in the world for be­tween 40 and 50 cents per pound.

• A quin­tal of dry cod can be pro­duced from 400 pounds of fresh fish.

In the first half of this cen­tury, fish­er­men caught two or three quin­tals daily dur­ing the fish­ing sea­son us­ing hook and line.

Fish­er­men reg­u­larly phone “The Fish­eries Broad­cast” with sto­ries of catch rates of cod in the quota fish­ery sev­eral times higher than they have ever seen.

There would seem to ex­ist the pos­si­bil­ity of in­creased com­mer­cial ac­tiv­ity in this area which would be par­tic­u­larly ben­e­fi­cial to ru­ral New­found­land. Un­for­tu­nately, it will never hap­pen. The num­ber of in­shore fish­ers is only 2,000.

The fed­eral government uses a quota man­age­ment sys­tem.

The pro­vin­cial government for­bids a free mar­ket in the es­tab­lish­ment of new plants, pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties and in­no­va­tive mar­ket­ing ideas.

As Bill Barry stated on “The Fish­eries Broad­cast” last Oc­to­ber, “I don’t think I’ll see in my life­time a change in the reg­u­la­tory sys- tem that would al­low us to har­vest the riches of the ocean in a ra­tio­nal, ef­fi­cient man­ner.”

My fam­ily was in­volved in lob­ster can­ning at the turn of the last cen­tury.

There were no reg­u­la­tions, and by 1920, the stocks were se­ri­ously de­pleted.

The Do­min­ion government closed the fish­ery for sev­eral years and, when it re­opened, har­vest­ing reg­u­la­tions were im­ple­mented. They have changed lit­tle since that time.

The lob­ster fish­ery has been a success ev­ery year for the past 90 years.

This suc­cess­ful fish­ery is a ef­fort-man­aged sys­tem not a quota-based one and is based on a few core prin­ci­ples: con­trol the ef­fort, both in num­ber of har­vesters and type of gear, re­quire live re­lease of the young, pro­tect the spawn­ing biomass; and have no quo­tas.

Imag­ine in­sti­tut­ing a man­age­ment plan for the hopefully re­turn­ing cod that could last suc­cess­fully for 90 years as our fore­fa­thers did for lob­ster. Let’s call it “the lob­ster model.”

Barry Darby writes from St. John’s.

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