Our future is in the fishery
The fishery is in the news again; problems in the shrimp and crab, cod not coming back as fast as expected, salmon stocks at an alltime low.
The one thing we don’t hear much about is the most important fish in the ocean, the fertilizer that makes all things grow – the lowly capelin.
According to a report this past winter from DFO, the capelin has not improved since 1990-91 when they were at an all-time low. In my opinion they were part of the reason for the collapse of the great northern cod; both collapsed at the same time.
In the late ‘80s Canada granted Russia a deal to fish capelin up the Labrador coast, 50,000 tons a year for five years. The first year they caught 50,000 tons, the next year 1,000 tons – (they) caught all the capelin the first year. Having fished the Labrador coast for many years I knew the importance of capelin to cod and other species. Sad to say there was no cod to catch in Labrador two years before the moratorium, but no one picked up on this valuable information.
The capelin not only is the main food for most fishes but is very important to the birds that live on the ocean, the whales, and the seals. Because of the ban of our seal products by other countries, we cannot control the seals because we have little or no market. Both the federal and provincial governments did not think that seal products were important enough to the NL economy to make sure they were included into the European trade deal. The seal herds, because they have been allowed to explode, are having a tremendous effect on the fish in our ocean, especially the capelin, which is one of their main diets.
Although it’s been known capelin stocks have not improved since 1990-91, we still keep destroying them every year and the powers that control the fishery can’t seem to understand how important they are to the health of our ocean.
At the last provincial Liberal convention there was a resolution put to the floor to ban the commercial capelin fishery until there was science done to see what the capelin stocks were. Several experienced fishermen supported the resolution but it was defeated by cabinet minister Christopher Mitchelmore, who was able to garner enough support to do so. If our own government is against us, how can we win?
In the news this past winter, the federal government decided to spend a large sum of money to restore the beach at Ship Harbour so that capelin can come ashore and spawn. Our beaches are not the problem – we have lots of them. Most of our capelin beaches do not have any capelin spawning on them anymore. The problem is that as soon as the capelin decided to come ashore to spawn the seiners will catch them first.
Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc, when questioned by a (CBC) Fisheries Broadcast reporter about the state of the capelin fishery last year – where capelin were scarce and very small (same thing happened to the cod before the moratorium) and plants only bought them because there was nothing else – admitted there was a problem but made the statement, “although they were small they would die anyway, so it was better to catch them.”
If you kill them before they reproduce, where is the future for the capelin and the other species that depend on them?
Don Hutchens, president of the Salmonid Council of Newfoundland and Labrador, (wrote) a letter in the Telegram on Feb. 24, where he talks about the importance of capelin to the wild salmon and the need for recreation salmon anglers and commercial cod and capelin fishers to stop the infighting and concentrate their anger at Ottawa.
If you read this letter carefully you will understand, as I do, our capelin has never been managed on its benefits to the ocean, but how much money we can squeeze out of this resource. That is contrary to all common sense and the main reason our oceans are only producing a small percentage of what they once did.
This letter was written before DFO released their report on capelin on March 12. I will be following up with my thoughts as a Newfoundlander who cares about the future of the fishery and our province.
(Ret) Capt. Wilfred Bartlett Green Bay South firstname.lastname@example.org