NORTHERN PENINSULA, NL – Now into the last week of October, many fishermen along the Northern Peninsula say the cod season is dwindling for the year.
Englee harvester Larry Cull says despite a rough start, it’s been a decent season for his enterprise.
“We lost about three weeks because we had no buyer,” said Cull. “It was not as good as last year, but still fairly good.”
With a lack of capelin along the peninsula shores this year, most of the cod caught has been particularly small with an assortment of odd baits found in their bellies.
“For our gear, a lot of the fish is too small to catch,” said Cull. “There’s a bit left to jig, but not so good to try and catch it in nets now.”
John Regular of Ship Cove, who fishes in the 3K region, says the cod he’s caught has also been very skinny, and he has found crab, herring scales and smaller cod fish when he’s cut open their stomachs.
“Even though we got a good sign of fish around, seems like it’s starving to death,” he said. “The fish is mostly just a head now, that’s all.”
Regular has seen no capelin, but in Cull’s past two weeks of fishing, he has seen a lot of small capelin in his catch. After a whole summer with hardly a sign of capelin, it was a surprising sight.
“Some of the last fish we caught was full of capelin,” Cull said. “So maybe capelin might’ve been spawning in deeper waters; we’re really not sure where it came from.”
Snow crab stocks
On the Labrador front, Alton Rumbolt in Mary’s Harbour says capelin is rarely seen in the water he fishes. This year he found the cod had eaten a lot of snow crab, and he suspects this is playing a role in dwindling snow crab stocks.
“We picked out a lot of female crabs from the cod fish this year, and the DFO has found the same,” Rumbolt said.
The cod aren’t the only fish in desperate need of feed this year. Regular says a humpback whale got caught in one of his herring nets this year, something he’s never seen before. Regular says he had to cut the net loose, and the humpback whale appears to have survived.
At this time of year, Regular says the cod catch has gotten small enough that it is not worth the mileage to send his boat out from Ship Cove to the 3K region near Quirpon.
“With a 27-foot boat and two motors, I burn a lot of gas – $12-1500 worth just in September,” said Regular. “It’s not worth while now, there’s still fish but it’s moved off.”
Though they have the opportunity to fish until December, rough weather and the movement of fish in cold water will keep most harvesters away from sea.
Cull and Regular are preparing to pack up their gear as the likelihood of catching fish in nets decreases.
“It’s looking for bait now, so the best way to get it this time of year is jigging,” said Regular.
Earlier in the year, Regular would go out in the morning with four to six nets and be back by noon with the quotas met. Now, with the coming cold of fall and winter, he’d have to spend his entire day out in boat to make the same quota.
“It’s too much now to be down there all day long,” he said. “The weather’s gotten rough, the water gets heavy and the wind is too much – don’t make it easy for your nets or your body.”
Cull says the season typically slows down by October and this is the usual protocol.
“This time of year, the fish is starting to move out,” said Cull. “I’ve pretty much given it up now.”