After a year of moratorium, the mackerel population continues to decline
Fisheries Minister must decide whether or not fishing will resume this year.
Mackerel are found on both sides of the North Atlantic.
Atlantic mackerel stocks are still in the “critical zone,” Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientists said this week in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
They presented to the fishing industry and environmental groups the results of the assessment of this species made in 2022. Last year, there was no fishing for mackerel in the Atlantic, because the federal government decreed a moratorium.
Declining for a decade, the Atlantic mackerel population is in trouble.
The number of young fish has been rather low for a few years, and this is worrying, said biologist Elisabeth Van Beveren of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) speaking to the Atlantic Mackerel Advisory Committee.
The number of Atlantic mackerel reaching spawning age is currently on the rise to only 27% of the levels measured from 1969 to 2011.
Biologist Elisabeth Van Beveren spoke in Halifax to the Atlantic Mackerel Advisory Committee.
Mackerels are also a food source for other species such as seals, whales, some seabirds and other fish. The analysis presented this year contained some fairly general estimates of predation.
It was said that in 2020 gray seals in Canada ate 8,000 tonnes of mackerel and boobies gannets consumed 15,000 tonnes.
This new data puts the federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Joyce Murray, in front of a big decision. It must now announce whether the 2022 moratorium will be maintained, or whether fishing can resume.
In a written statement, his department said that reflection was continuing and that a decision had not yet been made.
Joyce Murray, Minister of Fisheries, in her Vancouver constituency office in January.
The decision to impose a moratorium has far-reaching consequences in Atlantic Canada, particularly because mackerel is a commonly used bait in the lobster fishery, an industry valued at $3 billion in 2021.
Adding to the controversy is the fact that the United States has not harmonized its policies with those of Canada. The Americans did not declare a moratorium last year. However, they have just announced a 27% reduction in their mackerel quota in 2023, compared to 2022.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, the fishermen's union FFAW (Fish, Food and Allied Workers) has called for the reopening of the mackerel fishery. The group argues that this fish is abundant off Newfoundland.
Greg Pretty, president of the FFAW union, at a press conference on Monday.
We want to draw attention to the colossal mismanagement of the mackerel fishery and the scientific flaws of DFO in its biomass estimates, accused last Monday, during a press conference in Saint-Jean, the president of the union FFAW, Greg Pretty.
The DFO biologist refuted these arguments. Elisabeth Van Beveren explained that a species can be in a critical situation, even if it is abundant in a particular area.
She also says that the spawning areas have not changed. Annual surveys by Fisheries and Oceans Canada have determined that the main spawning area remains the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and no evidence has been found that they have moved to Newfoundland.
< p class="e-p">Martin Mallet, general manager of the Maritime Fishermen's Union (UPM), accepts the 2022 assessment made by the federal government. He does not believe, however, that a complete moratorium on mackerel fishing is warranted.
He claims that it is possible to restore the resource by maintaining a regional quota of 2,500 tonnes, or about 10% of the biomass capable of reproduction.
Martin Mallet believes a complete moratorium is not desirable.
Katie Schleit, Director of Fisheries at Oceans North, a charity which is dedicated to the conservation of marine areas, says for its part that the moratorium must be maintained, if the federal government is truly dedicated to the future recovery of mackerel stocks.
Basics scientists that support this decision are really strong, and continue to be strong after this assessment, she said.
Based on reporting by Paul Withers, CBC