For cod’s sake

The Western Star - - EDITORIAL -

Ina few short weeks, it will have been 26 years since the cod mora­to­rium was first put in place. And the amaz­ing thing, for any­one who re­mem­bers that day per­son­ally, is that the same ar­gu­ments are be­ing made about a fish stock that is still clearly in trou­ble.

This past week, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment an­nounced it was cut­ting this year’s to­tal al­low­able catch by 25 per cent, af­ter a sin­gle-year decline in the biomass of 30 per cent. The cod biomass now is roughly where it was in 1992.

But when it comes to that cut in the to­tal al­low­able catch, you can hear the same ar­gu­ments that were made in 1992.

“This de­ci­sion (to re­duce the catch limit) ig­nores so­cio-eco­nomic con­sid­er­a­tions for hun­dreds of com­mu­ni­ties in our prov­ince and the thou­sands of peo­ple who rely on coastal re­sources,” Fish, Food and Al­lied Work­ers union pres­i­dent Keith Sul­li­van said in a state­ment late Tuesday. “With­out it, out­mi­gra­tion will con­tinue and ru­ral life will be a thing of the past, with no in­dus­try to sup­port it.”

But what ex­actly is the op­tion? Fish any­way? It doesn’t mat­ter where the cod went or what was re­spon­si­ble for their un­ex­pected dis­ap­pear­ance. What mat­ters is that they aren’t around to reach ma­tu­rity and re­pro­duce.

While Sul­li­van may be right that the lat­est de­clines can be at­trib­uted to nat­u­ral mor­tal­ity and not fish­ing, why does that mean it’s ei­ther safe or eth­i­cal to con­tinue to catch fish at the same rate?

It’s a lit­tle bit like say­ing ex­ces­sive speed causes more ac­ci­dents than a lack of snow tires, so no one should bother us­ing snow tires.

And it’s not just this year. The decline in cod num­bers is ex­pected to con­tinue next year as well.

Why? One fac­tor is be­lieved to be a decline in shrimp and caplin abun­dance — in other words, star­va­tion. Fish that were caught in 2017 sur­veys were thin­ner, and their stom­ach con­tents were found to have few shrimp and caplin, hardly a recipe for ar­gu­ing that catches should be in­creased. (Es­pe­cially be­cause catch quo­tas are based on weight, and skin­nier fish mean more fish har­vested per tonne of land­ings.)

One thing’s for cer­tain: the cod are in crit­i­cal trou­ble, and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment should be tak­ing care­ful stock of the health of the fish­ery, right down to parts that have been ab­sent in over­all cal­cu­la­tions — a clear anal­y­sis of the to­tal num­ber of fish be­ing har­vested in the food fish­ery (a catch that’s been es­ti­mated at more than 1,000 tonne a year), a clear pic­ture of dis­cards and high-graded catches, and a rea­son­ably ac­cu­rate es­ti­mate of the amount of cod be­ing caught il­le­gally.

The sad­dest part of all?

It’s been 26 years, and we’re still mak­ing fun­da­men­tal, self-in­ter­ested er­rors about how to fish a stock that’s in crit­i­cal trou­ble.

It doesn’t mat­ter where the cod went or what was re­spon­si­ble for their un­ex­pected dis­ap­pear­ance. What mat­ters is that they aren’t around to reach ma­tu­rity and re­pro­duce.

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