Fish­ers ques­tion cod sci­ence

The Southern Gazette - - NEWS - BY BRODIE THOMAS

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.”

RE­PORT FIND­INGS

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

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