Increase to northern cod allocation ‘slap in the face’ to harvesters, FFAW president says

FFAW leader Greg Pretty blasted the federal government’s announcement that touted the end of the cod moratorium in Newfoundland and Labrador, saying it opens the door to private companies taking fish from inshore harvesters. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

Fisheries union president Greg Pretty is not holding back his thoughts on how the federal government is handling the commercial cod fishery — a decision that Ottawa says marks the end of the 32-year moratorium on northern cod. 

“It’s absolutely ridiculous. It’s probably the worst decision I’ve ever seen out of Ottawa, and I’ve seen some beauts,” said Pretty, who leads the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union.

Federal Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier on Wednesday announced an increase to the amount of total allowable catch (TAC) for northern cod in a fishing zone labelled Zone 2J3KL, which stretches from the southeast corner of Newfoundland to the Labrador coastline. 

The increase means a total allowable catch, or TAC, of 18,000 tonnes.

The TAC last year was 13,000 last year.

Pretty said his largest concern is the fishery being switched from a designation of a stewardship fishery, which helped protect the stock, to a commercial fishery. He argues it brings private operators and harvesters from other countries back to the table too soon, and involves parties that caused the moratorium in the first place.

An animated gif shows fish in rows, with 235,000 tonnes in 1989, 120,000 tonnes in 1992, 13,000 tonnes in 2023 and 18,000 tonnes in 2024.
The allocation for northern cod this year is higher than 2023, but pales in comparison to the peak years before the 1992 moratorium was introduced. (CBC News Graphics/DFO data)

Pretty said the federal government has honoured an agreement since the early 1980s that private companies wouldn’t be able to be involved in the fishery until the TAC on the northern cod hit 115,000 tonnes. The TAC to that point, according to the union, is meant for inshore harvesters. 

“This has to be done in small increments because we have to develop cod markets. We need to re-establish cod markets around the world, and we also need to regenerate the industry in Newfoundland,” he said.

“But to have these offshore companies at the table at 18,000 tonnes, when we were promised they’d come in after 115 [thousand], it’s a slap in the face.”

Pretty said on multiple occasions that the announcement shows Ottawa is bowing to “corporate masters,” and said Newfoundland’s six Liberal MPs have stood in silence when it comes to the fishery.

Speaking with CBC News on Wednesday, Avalon MP Ken McDonald said he and his colleagues have been talking about the cod fishery for months, and that Wednesday’s announcement wasn’t politically motivated.

WATCH | Avalon MP Ken McDonald says ending of moratorium was not politically motivated: 

Liberal MP denies political motivation behind decision to increase amount of northern cod to be caught

While the federal Liberals hailed the end of the cod moratorium, the numbers present a more modest picture. This year, the total allowable catch (TAC) is 18,000 tonnes, an increase from last year’s 13,000. Liberal MP Ken McDonald insists the announcement was not one driven by politics or in the hopes of garnering votes come election time.

Pretty said there is need for change in Ottawa, and he intends to be part of it.

“We’re going to go to Ottawa, and we’re going to demand that they do the right thing.”

CBC News asked Clifford Small, the Conservative MP for Coast of Bays-Central-Notre Dame, for an interview, but he said he wasn’t ready to speak on the subject at the time.

The federal Conservative party did issue a news release, however, calling the switch from a stewardship to commercial fishery a failure of the Trudeau government.

“The announcement also conveniently failed to mention that by changing the status of the fishery from stewardship to commercial, foreign countries automatically get a five percent allocation,” the statement said.

“Canadian fish stocks should be for Canadian fishers first and it is clear with this decision that the Liberal government does not have the livelihoods of our fishers and processors in mind.”

Announcement missing scientific rationale, scientist says

Meanwhile, a fisheries scientist with Oceana Canada called the decision to increase the TAC disappointing and concerning for the health of the northern cod stock.

A woman with long brown hair. The background of the photo is blurred, as she has blurred it for a Zoom call.
Rebecca Schijns, a fisheries scientist with Oceana Canada, called DFO’s announcement deeply disappointing. (CBC)

“This decision kind of flies in the face of what we really see as a vision for rebuilding cod to healthy levels, and really puts at risk the future of that thriving fishery,” Rebecca Schijns told CBC News.

“To me, it’s not following science.”

The northern cod stock is currently in what DFO scientists labelled the “cautious” zone, but Schijns said current statistics from Oceana Canada show the northern cod stock moving back into the more serious “critical” zone in the next three years.

Oceana Canada had called on fishing levels to be reduced by 50 per cent to help the stock stay out of the critical zone.

WATCH | Former provincial fisheries minister Keith Hutchings says the increase in the northern cod TAC will have a small impact: 

N.L. fisheries expert sees cod changes as ‘incremental’ step toward commercial fishery

Keith Hutchings, managing director of the Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation and a former minister of fisheries for N.L, says the change announced by the federal government is a ‘first attempt’ to move from a stewardship cod fishery back to a commercial fishery.

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