Key north­ern shrimp stock down again

Fish­able shrimp biomass in area off north­east coast takes an­other hit

The Packet (Clarenville) - - Front page - BY GLEN WHIFFEN glen.whiffen@thetele­gram.com

De­tails of the lat­est north­ern shrimp stock as­sess­ment were re­leased Feb. 16 with key Shrimp Fish­ing Area (SFA) 6 off the prov­ince’s north­east coast look­ing pretty grim.

Fish­able biomass is down 16 per cent and spawn­ing stock biomass is down 19 per cent in SFA 6, thus leav­ing shrimp in that area in the crit­i­cal zone of the pre­cau­tion­ary ap­proach frame­work em­ployed by Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans (DFO) sci­ence.

That will likely trans­late into an­other drop in the To­tal Al­low­able Catch (TAC) for the area this up­com­ing sea­son as the ex­ploita­tion rate of a fish stock in the crit­i­cal zone should not be more than 10 per cent of the fish­able biomass.

The TAC last year in SFA 6 was re­duced by a whoop­ing 62.6 per cent to 10,400 tonnes af­ter the stock as­sess­ment re­vealed a 25 per cent drop in fish­able biomass.

This year’s TAC won’t be an­nounced by the fed­eral min­is­ter un­til af­ter a March 7 North­ern Shrimp Ad­vi­sory meet­ing.

At that gath­er­ing, DFO sci­ence ad­vice will be pre­sented and dis­cussed with in­dus­try stake­hold­ers and indige­nous groups. Rec­om­men­da­tions for the TAC level and any other man­age­ment mea­sures will be made fol­low­ing the meet­ing.

The Fish, Food and Al­lied Work­ers (FFAW-Uni­for) re­sponded to the news say­ing DFO needs to re-eval­u­ate the ref­er­ence points used to es­tab­lish the stock sta­tus in SFA 6.

In a news re­lease the union stated that DFO Sci­ence sets ref­er­ence points based on the av­er­age spawn­ing stock biomass from 1996 to 2003, a time when shrimp preda­tors such as north­ern cod were at an all-time low. A re­build­ing plan based on that ref­er­ence pe­riod means north­ern shrimp will likely not re­cover out of the crit­i­cal zone, ir­re­spec­tive of any fish­ing pres­sure, it stated.

“This north­ern shrimp as­sess­ment paints a pic­ture of an ecosys­tem in tran­si­tion, not sim­ply the de­cline of a stock,” FFAWUni­for pres­i­dent Keith Sul­li­van said.

“It is cru­cial that DFO in­cor­po­rate pre-1996 biomass lev­els in the man­age­ment of north­ern shrimp. Re-eval­u­at­ing the ref­er­ence points would help to sta­bi­lize this fish­ery and avoid fur­ther eco­nomic hard­ship in ru­ral New­found­land and Labrador.”

The re­lease notes that about 3,000 peo­ple are di­rectly em­ployed in the in­shore shrimp fish­ery, which to­gether with its spinoffs, con­trib­uted $250 mil­lion to the provin­cial econ­omy in 2015.

Shrimp in­come in 2015 made up greater than half of the to­tal har­vest­ing in­come for more than 75 per cent of har­vesters, the union said. Com­bined with de­clin­ing crab stocks and few other fish­eries, the cuts are hav­ing a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on the eco­nomic liveli­hood of thou­sands of peo­ple in the prov­ince.

While SFA 6 shrimp re­mains in the crit­i­cal zone, SFA 4 and 5 off the coast of Labrador re­main in the healthy zone.

Kather­ine Skanes, a stock as­sess­ment bi­ol­o­gist with DFO, ex­plained that the SFAs are man­aged un­der the pre­cau­tion­ary ap­proach based on the fe­male spawn­ing stock biomass — the changes in the over­all weight, in tonnes, of the fe­male pop­u­la­tion.

Skanes said that pre­da­tion, fish­ing and the en­vi­ron­ment all af­fect shrimp pro­duc­tion, al­though pre­cise re­la­tion­ships are not clear. Shrimp pro­duc­tion has de­clined since the mid1990s and is ex­pected to re­main at low val­ues for the next twothree years.

Skanes also noted that shrimp is an im­por­tant for­age species, par­tic­u­larly when there is a scarcity of caplin.

“We know that fish­ing is re­lated to how much shrimp is out there, but we don’t have like mea­sures on which driver was the most sig­nif­i­cant on driv­ing the shrimp re­source down,” she said. “We can’t say that it was fish­ing. We be­lieve pri­mar­ily it was pre­da­tion that was driv­ing it down.

“We see (ground­fish) are eat­ing a lot more shrimp but mainly it is be­cause there is less caplin in the wa­ter avail­able for them to eat. The amount of shrimp they are eat­ing have in­creased for a few years and, in re­cent years, it has re­mained about the same. The ground­fish pop­u­la­tion is nowhere close to where it was be­fore the 1990s, so the im­pacts aren’t fully un­der­stood but we know that pre­da­tion by ground­fish does had a big ef­fect on the cur­rent shrimp pop­u­la­tion.”

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