04 August 2005

Damn-fool fishery - some facts [Second Revision]

In the relentless nonsense about the Damn-Fool Fishery, there is a story Jim Morgan has been pushing that there was suddenly a by-catch quota for cod introduced on the northeast coast.

Well, having learned through long experience that Morgan is seldom right about anything, I called the Department of Fisheries and Oceans [DFO] in St. John's and gathered the following factual information for your reference.

1. Cod By-catch: In fisheries management zones 2J3KL, fishermen with groundfish licenses are permitted a total by-catch of cod equaling 2, 000 pounds for the year. That's it. This policy has been in place for some time. It wasn't suddenly introduced in the past week or two.

When the blackback fishery was recently announced, fishermen were reminded that they could only catch cod to a maximum of 2, 000 pounds for all groundfish species fished for the year.

Jim Morgan was completely, utterly, totally and unmistakably WRONG when he claimed this was a new policy.

For fixed gear fishermen in 2J3KL last year (calendar 2004), the average total by-catch was a mere 500 pounds. That's only 25% of the maximum.

[Update: DFO corrected my figures in an e-mail received yesterday. The 500 figure should have been 500 tonnes total, not 500 pounds per fisherman. Apparently there were about 700 fixed-gear fishermen in the 2J3KL fishery which works out to an average of about 1428 pounds cod by-catch per fisherman. That's 71% of the total allowable by-catch, not the 25% previously reported.]

And there are supposedly lots of fish out there, bearing in mind that in Newfoundland, fish is a synonym for cod. Every other species of swimming thing is known by its name.

Only cod are fish.

[Update comment: The revised figure of 71% by-catch is significant, but it is still a long way from demonstrating that there is a large amount of cod out there or, in the case of Mr. Morgan's claims, it still doesn't make the by-catch a cod-fishery by another name.]

2. Total Recreational Fishery Licenses Sold (2001-2004)

These figures will tell you something.

In 2001, DFO introduced the license and tags system for the recreational cod fishery. The fishery covered all zones and was open from July until September. They sold 91, 000 licenses, each with 30 tags.

The next year, the fishery was in all zones and lasted for six weeks. They sold about 50, 000 licenses with 15 tags.

In the past two years, the recreational fishery took place in 3Ps only. About 9, 100 licenses were sold each year each with 15 tags.

For all the claims that there is a huge demand for a "cod for the table", and with the ease of travel in the province these days, only 10% of the crowd who took part in the recreational fishery in 2001 participated in 2004.

3. Recreational Fishery Landings


2001 - 1896 tonnes
2002 - 670 tonnes
2003 - No fishery
2004 - No fishery


2001 - 456 tonnes
2002 - No figures
2003 - 152 tonnes
2004 - 156 tonnes.

Before anyone starts taking these numbers an arguing there could easily be a recreational fishery on the northeast coast, go back and look at the actual by-catch landings last year. It was only 500 pounds per license. If there were that many fish out there, that number should be pretty close to the maximum, wouldn't you think?

[Update: If I work the math correctly, here's what the cod landings look like in 3Ps in the recreational fishery last year.

There are about 150 tonnes of fish, give or take which works out to roughly 300, 000 pounds of cod. There were 136, 500 tags. If we allow that all those tags were used, then the average fish size was a little over two pounds. My math could be faulty, but that seems to be an awfully small fish. Even if only half the available tags were used, it still gives us a four pound cod. I have caught salmon bigger than that.

Most of the cod I saw in television coverage of the rec fishery this past weekend were small to the eye, so those calculations seem to be about right on. If proponents of the recreational fishery are catching small fish, I'd venture that we are not actually seeing healthy cod stocks by any measure.

Bear in mind that the best estimates by scientists are that the total biomass of northern cod is only about 170, 000 tonnes, including the stocks of so-called bay fish. Those who think those numbers are small haven't offered any estimates, let alone serious estimates, of how much fish they think might be out there. There shouldn't be a commercial fishery until the stocks are much healthier, like maybe 10 times the current estimated biomass. I don't think the best scientific estimates are that far off.

Perhaps if Jim Morgan and A.J. Baker offered some facts to back up their arguments, it would be easier to take them seriously. Until then, I'd just as soon we accepted that jigging a meal of cod that many of us used to enjoy as a privilege is something we cannot enjoy today.

I never want my grandchildren to be able to see a cod stuffed and mounted in a museum, the only way my children can see a Great Auk. I'd sooner give up my chance to have a feed I jigged myself so my children and grandchildren might one day see cod as I knew them not so long ago and as my grandfathers and great-grandfathers knew them.

If He gave me anything at all in this world, God gave me a responsibility to shepherd the resources of the Earth.

If only proponents of the damn-fool fishery talked more of their God-given responsibilities, rather than their supposedly God-given rights.

If only.]

[Update II: Express columnist and St. John's lawyer A.J. Baker's column this week comments on the offshore, foreign cod catch allocations within the 200 mile exclusive economic zone. Here's a link to the column as printed in The Southern Gazette, one of The Express' sister publications.

Ms. Baker lists all the cod by-catches available to countries with historic fishing rights offshore Newfoundland and Labrador and currently assigned through the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO).

She notes: "All those foreign countries will legally be allowed to catch 5,900 tons of cod this summer -– that'’s 12 million pounds of cod.

Meanwhile, Newfoundlanders are not allowed to catch a single cod -– even to eat -– in those same fishing zones from that same cod stock."

First, Ms. Baker is flat-out WRONG when she claims that Newfoundland and Labrador fishing interests cannot catch a single cod.

As reported previously on The Sir Robert Bond Papers, Newfoundland and Labrador fishing interests can catch cod incidental to the licensed fishery, exactly as foreign interests are allowed to do. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians can legally get a feed of cod for the table, even in 2J3KL, even if they can't jig the rounders themselves.

Second, since I do not have figures right now we don't know for sure how many Newfoundland and Labrador-based fishing interests can catch cod legally in the 2J3KL zone. My bet is the figures are quite a bit higher than the 700 tonnes those fixed-gear guys are allowed to take.

My next step is to contact DFO again and get some additional factual information to counteract the distortions and misrepresentations by Ms. Baker and others.

The point to this entire enterprise is simple: the proponents of the Damn-Fool Fishery and those, like Ms. Baker, who continually slag the federal government and foreigners are doing so on the basis of something other than facts.

If we don't base our resource management decisions on facts, we stand a much higher chance of making a grave error when it comes to fisheries management than if we just thought about things for a minute and didn't get carried away with whatever we heard from someone who heard it from someone who told us something we wanted to believe.

Given our sad history of fisheries mismanagement, I'd sooner err on the side of caution than take the word of people who seem to be plucking stuff out of thin air, or worse still, only giving selected bits of information.]