Canadian fishers oppose potential closure of cod fishery, withdraw from quota negotiations

Published on
March 23, 2021

The Fish Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW), Atlantic Groundfish Council (AGC), and the Association of Seafood Producers (ASP) – which represent thousands of employees in the fishing industry in Canada –  have announced opposition to the potential closure of Newfoundland, Canada’s 3P fishery, located off the southern coast of the province

Earlier this week, the FFAW called on Canadian Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard Bernadette Jordan to reject recommendations to close the fishery, citing the thousands of jobs it would cost and the lack of evidence that a closure is necessary. According to the union, current Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) assessments found that the biomass index increased and mortality has been at low levels due to reduced quotas in the area.

According to the FFAW, landings of cod from the 3P area represent millions of dollars in revenue for the region, and fishing supports hundreds of local operations that rely almost exclusively on the species.

“The closure of this fishery will have devastating impacts, many of which DFO has not considered. Cod is a key part of the overall picture that makes up the fishery of the South Coast,” FFAW President Keith Sullivan said. “Many harvesters depend upon this stock. It is a meaningful part of their income, and many do not have a license to access shellfish to supplement that income.”

Sullivan told the Canadian Broadcast Company that the fishery has already taken severe cuts, and that the union strongly opposes any closures.

“The FFAW members certainly are not accepting a decision that's unnecessary and will do so much damage to people who have already sacrificed a lot with very low quotas already,” Sullivan told the CBC. "The cuts that harvesters have already taken, 55 percent last year, massive decreases in their catch than in previous years, and with the science we saw this year, we expected that there would be a status quo certainly and then carry on and assess this."

Just two days after the FFAW’s plea, the union – and the AGC and ASP – withdrew from advisory positions in negotiations between Canada and France over cod quotas. Canada negotiates and shares parts of the region’s cod quota with France, which controls St. Pierre and Miquelon, off Newfoundland’s southern coast.  

The withdrawal was announced on 23 March, with the union saying it is concerned with the current direction of negotiations.

“We have serious concerns about how FFAW members are considered in decision-making leading to positions for this negotiation, and vocalized similar concerns following last year’s process. The recommendation proposed for this year relating to 3Ps cod is unacceptable and must be revisited,” Sullivan said. “We remain dedicated to finding a path forward that includes more in-depth and constructive discussion on the issues related to the negotiation, and trust that the socioeconomic impact of any decision the involves fish harvesters in Newfoundland and Labrador is justly considered.”

According to a release by the AGC, the decision to withdraw came after the organizations learned that Canada was likely to declare a moratorium on cod fishing in the 3P area.

“Given that the mandate for the Canadian delegation is something that we cannot support, we feel we have no choice but to withdraw from the position of advisors to this week's bilateral meetings with France,” AGC President Bruce Chapman said. “We do not make this decision lightly. In my over 40 years of being involved as an advisor to DFO in many bilateral and multi-lateral fisheries negotiations, there have been many times when there has been differing views. But never something so severe that has required this action.”

Each of the AGC’s Newfoundland members – Icewater Seafoods, Ocean Choice International, and Harbour Grace Shrimp Company – all also withdrew from an advisory role, the AGC said.

A closure, Icewater Seafoods said, would be devastating to the company’s operations. According to Icewater Seafoods President and CEO Alberto Wareham, landings of cod from the 3P area make up 40 to 50 percent of the raw material processed at its Arnold’s Cove location.

“3Ps cod is the backbone of our plant, the backbone of this town and I’d argue, the backbone of the entire area,” Wareham said. “The harvesters who catch cod, the plant workers who process it, the truck drivers, fishing gear suppliers, dockside monitors – many, many local businesses. It’s a lot of people and a lot of families who deserve an explanation as to why 3Ps cod is being held to a different standard than other fish stocks.”

After the Groundfish Advisory Council meeting this year, the AGC recommended that the total allowable catch for cod stay the same level as the previous season – at a level 55 percent lower than prior years. At the time, the AGC said, there were no indications that the DFO might go as far as closing the fishery entirely.

“We know 3Ps cod is in the critical zone. We also know we have prioritized the long-term health of this stock in our recommendations year after year. It’s a principle we will never waiver from,” AGC Executive Director Kris Vascotto said. “But the science doesn’t support the need to close the fishery. Knowing that and knowing how many people and families depend on this for their livelihoods, we just couldn’t participate in bilateral discussions with France, intended to achieve an agreement to close the fishery, on the basis of the scientific evidence presented and without fulsome discussion with those most impacted by a decision.”

In addition to industry groups calling for the DFO to back off a closure of the fishery, Newfoundland and Labrador Fisheries Minister Elvis Loveless is also calling for a delay on the decision, the CBC reported.

"We need to pause right now, and reflect on the issues with regards to the modeling around the science numbers," Loveless told the CBC. “What I do support is proper science around the numbers in the 3Ps. I'm listening, and I hear concerns around the modelling 2018 model versus the 2019 model. There is gaps in the information, and reading more it really leaves me concerned about the proper science around the numbers in the zone that we call 3Ps."  

Photo courtesy of the Atlantic Groundfish Council

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