Fishers question cod science
DFO scientists claim cod stocks off Newfoundland’s south coast are in decline, but local fishers are questioning their data.
Scientists released their early assessments of the five cod stocks surrounding the province at a meeting in St. John’s Mar. 6. The assessment is the first step in the zonal advisory process, which will lead to a 2009 fisheries management plan for cod.
Johnny Purchase of Port aux Basques attended the meeting. He was left with a lot of questions after hearing several scientists present their work.
“It’s pretty shoddy science work at best. There’s a lot of I-don’tknows and guesswork there, yet they’re coming up with concrete numbers.
“If you’ve got all this guesswork leading up to these concrete numbers, how concrete are those numbers?”
He said there were 20-30 scientists presenting data. He said each was questioned about their numbers by their peers, and there were disagreements.
Mr. Purchase indicated many of the scientists said they were basing their numbers on estimates.
He criticized the scientists for dismissing information provided by fishermen as anecdotal, and then using their own estimates for facts.
He also said they often ignore basic data such as weight – counting a fish as a fish whether it was one pound or 10 pounds.
Mr. Purchase said it is no wonder there is a disconnect between fishers and scientists.
“We’ve got to leave the guess work out of this. If we’re not allowed to make our opinions known because it’s only anecdotal information, then why is science allowed to do it?”
He claimed this past meeting has caused him to lose faith in the zonal advisory process. He said he and other fishermen are only looking for modest quotas, not the 100,000ton fishery they had in the early 1990s.
He said what they really need is stability. Revisiting the TAC every year does not allow him to make long-term business decisions.
“It’s to the point where I’m thinking about getting out.”
DFO communications officer Sam Whiffen pointed out the sci- entists do not make recommendations in their report, but rather state findings and list available options.
Scientists reported stocks in 3Pn and 4RS are relatively healthy. That encompasses all waters off Newfoundland’s west coast, and waters south of the coast between Cape Ray and Burgeo.
The report stated catch rates for longliners and gillnets peaked in 2006, but remain above average in this area.
Cod from the 2006 season appear to be in abundance although they have not yet matured. Scientists stated management decisions should be weighted to protect these immature stocks for healthy stocks in 2011 and 2012.
The report advised any total allowable catch (TAC) above 9,000 tons in 3Pn 4RS is unsustainable. The 2008 quota was 7,000 tons.
The outlook for 3Ps, which stretches from Burgeo to Cape St. Mary’s, was not as optimistic. Scientists said mature offshore stocks that make up the largest part of the stock are in decline.
The report said they are at the lowest levels observed since 1983.
Scientists also reported inshore exploitations rates, which were 10 per cent in 2008, seem sustainable. At the same time they claim ‘the status of inshore components are uncertain’.
The report suggested the TAC in 3Ps should be reduced to at least 10,000 tons from the current 13,000 tons if the fishery is to remain sustainable.
Debbie Vautier, of Burnt Islands, fishes 3Ps with her husband Kenny. She said stocks appear to be very healthy.
“In the fall of the year the fishing is good. You could go out in one day and get your total allowable catch for the week but you’re not allowed.”
She said restrictions on gear prevent fishers from getting their weekly limit any faster.
Earle McCurdy, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union, also questioned the scientists’ assessment of 3Ps and the difference between inshore and offshore numbers.
He said, in a press release, reducing the TAC in 3Ps would have a “devastating impact” on fishers in that area.
Mr. Whiffen said ministerial decisions on management measures, including quotas, will be made later this spring after consultation with stakeholders.
Port aux Basques Gulf News