DFO shutting down herring, mackerel fisheries on East Coast

Federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray announced Wednesday there will be no commercial or bait fishing for herring in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Atlantic mackerel in Atlantic Canada and Quebec.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) said urgent action had to be taken to give the stocks a chance to recover and to ensure the long-term sustainability and prosperity of East Coast fisheries.

But the decision is not sitting well with the fishing community.

“We are shocked by this radical decision on the part of Minister Murray,” said Martin Mallet, the executive director of the Maritime Fishermen’s Union, which represents more than 1,300 fishermen.

“We are appalled at the impact of this decision on our fishers [and] the coastal communities and workers who depend on these fisheries.”

Many commercial lobster crews use mackerel to bait their traps. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Herring and mackerel play a vital role in both the fishing industry and ocean ecosystems. They are an important food source for other species, including tuna and Atlantic cod. But they are also a traditional source of bait in many commercial fisheries, including lobster, snow crab and halibut.

“We are not sure how this decision is going to affect the overall supply and access to bait, or the price,” said Mallet.

Mallet said the closures would have an “atomic bomb impact.”

He said DFO did not contact the union about the closures prior to the announcement.

The sentiment was shared by officials of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union, which said fish harvesters were “shocked” by Wednesday’s announcement. Union president Keith Sullivan said in a statement released Wednesday fishers would suffer from the decision.

“Announcing a moratorium on the mackerel fishery is one more example of how [the Fisheries Department] and Minister Joyce Murray would rather eliminate livelihoods than do the actual work that needs to be done,” Sullivan said

The moratorium should not come as a total surprise. DFO has undertaken many measures in the last few years to replenish the species. For herring, it implemented daily catch limits, minimum mesh hole size in nets, and put limits on the overall size and number of nets.

But the measures have not been enough as stocks have reached what DFO calls a “critical zone.” Now DFO is hoping reduced fishing will help the stocks mature and reproduce.

Katie Schleit, senior fishing adviser with Oceans North, a charitable organization that fosters science and community-based conservation programs, wasn’t surprised by the announcement.

“This kind of news is hard to digest but it’s been a long time coming,” she said. “These two particular forage stocks have been critically depleted for more than a decade and unfortunately this was the only decision left to make.”

The closures will be revisited by DFO following the next stock assessments.

Food, social and ceremonial fisheries for First Nation communities will remain open for both herring and Atlantic mackerel.

The recreational fishery for mackerel will also remain open, but the daily limit of 20 mackerel that was put into place last year will remain.

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