CANADA BAY, N.L. – With higher numbers of capelin in 2018, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is coming under fire for its decision to cut the quota.
In June, the department announced it was cutting the total allowable catch (TAC) by 35 per cent to 19,823 tonnes in 2J3KLPs and 9,295 tonnes in 4RST.
The eastern side of the Great Northern Peninsula is included in 3K, while the western side is included in 4R.
Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) director of inshore sector, Bill Broderick, says the union recommended to DFO not to make this cut.
“We saw evidence last year, from fishers on the water, that there was capelin in the south and it just didn’t go north for whatever reason,” he said. “It didn’t come up to the Northern Peninsula like it did in other years.”
But, now, based on his conversations with harvesters, he believes the capelin is back, including in the Canada Bay area on the Great Northern Peninsula.
Broderick says he's on the phone every day, speaking with inshore fisherpersons and processers from Cape Bauld to Placentia Bay. He’s hearing there is lots of good capelin, 60 to 70 per cent bigger than last year’s product.
Unlike last year, he says the capelin came early and landed on the beaches as it traditionally does.
Broderick believes last year was an anomaly caused by colder water temperatures in the north.
He criticizes DFO for making its decision based on what he claims to be a single year of evidence.
“Science will tell our fishermen we shouldn’t react to one year’s event,” he said. “Well, they’re reacting to what they tell us we shouldn’t react to.”
Englee fishermen Larry Cull fishes in the Canada Bay area. He’s seeing more capelin this year and also believes cooler temperatures was the issue last season.
He’s less emphatic in his criticism of DFO, but does not believe the quota should have been cut.
He spoke to The Northern Pen with the fixed gear season set to close at 10 p.m. Aug. 2.
Cull estimates with two crews fishing aboard his boat, the Trinity Challenger, they’ve caught about 400,000 pounds this year.
That’s a decent year.
According to him, some days have been slower than others but believes that sometimes capelin is around and just doesn’t enter the traps.
Cull says he isn’t sure what goes into DFO’s science, but he too is hearing that capelin catches have been strong and healthy all over the island.
The Northern Pen also reported last week of two harvesters from Roddickton-Bide Arm who believe capelin was looking strong in Canada Bay at the start of the season.
A DFO spokesperson provided The Northern Pen the following statement on its decision to cut the TAC: “Capelin is a critical species in the marine ecosystem and our management decision reflects its importance. After considering the recent science advice and in consultation with the harvesting sector, processing sector, provincial government and NunatuKavut Community Council, we reduced the total allowable catch to ensure the sustainability of the resource along with balancing socioeconomic factors.”
Hannah Murphy, research scientist in the pelagics section, says the scientific advice to DFO in March 2018 was to be cautious.
Their research determined that capelin numbers did not look good.
“Pelagic species can react quite quickly to their environment,” she explained to The Northern Pen. “It looks like what happened this year is that environmental conditions were better than we thought and they (capelin) did really well. A lot more survived than what we thought”
Murphy says pelagics can undergo “boom and bust” population dynamics. In other words, when environmental conditions are good, populations can grow. But when they’re bad, the population can drop quickly.
She says the scientists will meet with DFO again in March and formulate their advice based on the new information they’re gathering this year.
According to Murphy, unlike with cod, they currently do not have a capelin assessment model.
However, she says they’ve been working on a forecast model for capelin to help try and understand the uncertainty around numbers from year-to-year.
“It’s already been submitted to a scientific journal and we will be discussing the stock assessment in March 2019,” she said.
According to Murphy, the three most important variables they’ve found to help determine capelin numbers include timing of the ice retreat, the number of larvae they sample and the condition of fish during adulthood in the fall.
Scientists are hoping to use this new model in the future.