If cod re­turns, harvest prac­tices should change

The Compass - - EDITORIAL -

A few days ago I lis­tened to Fred Wood­man Jr., for­mer owner of an in­shore fish plant in New Har­bour, be­ing in­ter­viewed by Jamie Baker on Fish­eries broad­cast, talk­ing about cod be­fore the mora­to­rium and cod now and what to do with it.

While I didn’t know Fred Wood­man Jr., I cer­tainly knew his fa­ther, Fred Wood­man Sr., who was owner of an in­shore fish plant and was a mem­ber of the New­found­land In­shore Fish­eries As­so­ci­a­tion, a group of con­cerned cit­i­zens who were try­ing to wake up the politi­cians as to what was hap­pen­ing to the in­shore cod fish­ery.

Af­ter the col­lapse of the cod, Wood­man Sr. chaired the Fish­eries Re­source Con­ser­va­tion Coun­cil, an or­ga­ni­za­tion put in place by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to get in­put from the peo­ple as to what was hap­pen­ing in the fish­ery and what could be done to bring it back. He was the best of chair­man and gave ev­ery­one a chance to have their say. I knew first hand hav­ing ap­peared be­fore him many times.

Fred Wood­man Jr. talked about a rush of cod just be­fore the mora­to­rium. My an­swer to that is that as fish got smaller fish­er­man adapted to smaller mesh gear to catch more fish. The Ja­panese cod trap had a small mesh and a cover on top so no fish could es­cape.

The last year be­fore the mora­to­rium, I fished in the Vir­gin Rocks area. Very few fish caught in that area that year and one of my trips ashore I vis­ited Petty Har­bour and went down to the plant. The plant was blocked with cod and fish­er­men were tied up to the wharf with a load of cod they couldn’t sell be­cause all the plants on the South­ern Shore were blocked with more fish than they could process.

All the cod com­ing ashore was an av­er­age of 12 to 20 inches. Martin O’Brien, who had a plant in Tors Cove, had in­vested a huge amount of money putting in au­to­matic ma­chin­ery to be able to process small cod. That year there was a huge mar­ket for cod in United King­dom for the fish and chip in­dus­try, while the gill­net­ters caught no fish that year be­cause there were no large fish left, all the small fish were go­ing through the gear.

The drag­ger fleet and the in­shore fish­er­men with the small mesh gear were catch­ing the small fish. I am not blam­ing the in­shore fish­er­men for the col­lapse of the cod. They adapted the same as the drag­ger fleet had done for years to catch small cod, but what you are do­ing is de­stroy­ing the last of the stock. When all you are catch­ing is baby fish you are scrap­ing the bot­tom of the bar­rel and that’s ex­actly what we did.

As to the fu­ture of the cod fish­ery, if it re­turns to a sen­si­ble harvest there is a lot of things we have to change, like land­ing a bet­ter qual­ity prod­uct in or­der to get good re­turns to the in­dus­try and mak­ing sure that we never scrape the bot­tom of the bar­rel again.

We have a vast ocean that can sus­tain us for­ever, but only if we man­age it prop­erly. We didn’t do it in the 80s and 90s, and I’m not sure we will do it in the fu­ture be­cause I haven’t seen a will­ing­ness to do so.

We have a drag­ger fleet that drag up ev­ery­thing in its path, both big and small; a prime ex­am­ple is Ocean Choice In­ter­na­tional. It’s catch­ing floun­der too small to process in this province. We are still catch­ing capelin — the food for all species in the ocean.

We need to stop man­ag­ing the oceans for how much money we can make. If we want a healthy ocean we need to man­age it for how much food it can pro­duce.

Wil­fred Bartlett writes from Green Bay South

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