BAIE VERTE, NL — A pair of fish harvesters from Baie Verte appreciated a rare opportunity to address Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) representatives in an open forum last week.
Ray Wimbleton and Lyndon Small both acknowledged the opportunity they were given to voice their concerns, and said they have plenty of suggestions for improving the industry.
Wimbleton, a harvester with 40 years’ experience, says the biggest issue he has with the cod fishery right now is that weekly harvesting limits were put in place without consultation with the harvesters.
Each fish harvesters gets a quota of cod to catch for the season, but under DFO rules there are limits on how much cod they can land each week.
“We caught cod when cod was there,” Wimbleton said, referring to past practices. “We never tried to catch cod when it wasn’t there.”
“The way this system is now, with the cap we have, they give you the biggest weekly cap when the cod is not there and the smallest weekly cap when the fish is really plentiful.”
He said it doesn’t make sense.
“You can give me a million pound of fish to catch in February, but I am not going to catch it, am I?” he said.
Wimbleton would like to see caps increased on the northeast coast during peak fishing periods and reduced in late fall.
A weekly period to catch a cap is also a safety concern if buyers are not purchasing during a specific window, but only during a couple of those days, according to Wimbleton.
If the weather is bad, a harvester feels forced to fish anyway, either putting lives in jeopardy or losing out on their livelihoods, he said.
“The cap you didn’t catch that week is now gone forever,” he said. “Versus if it was an IQ (individual quota), you would just roll it into the next week.
“That is what causes people to do silly things, taking unnecessary chances.”
He said harvesters face a similar situation with ice conditions during the crab fishery.
Wimbleton also believes the capelin fishery should be shut down, saying capelin is too valuable as a food source for cod to be depleted by commercial fishing.
Small, a harvester in the over-40-foot fleet, says there is need for more flexibility regarding cod harvesting. He believes a buddy-up arrangement should be implemented to allow harvesters to combine resources and says the Fish, Food and Allied Works (FFAW) Union is dragging its heels on the issue.
“The big priority going forward right now in this developing cod fishery is quality – if we are going to get top return, top dollar, for the product,” said Small. “Especially if you want to try to get access to the fresh fish market in the U.S.”
Although advocating for access to more quotas earlier in the season may be a priority for the under-40-foot fleet, Small says late-season quotas are better for the over-40-foot fleet.
He says quality is better in the fall.
Local fish harvesters who participated in a pilot fall crab fishery reported good catch and quality meat, so Small is in favour of making a late-fall crab fishery a permanent option.
He also suggested opening the turbot fishery for a couple of months rather than a couple of weeks.
It was estimated between 40-50 fish harvesters attended the session in Baie Verte.