PEI fishermen fear mackerel fishery won’t open in 2023

Last March, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans imposed a moratorium on commercial mackerel fishing on the east coast.  (CBC - photo credit)

Last March, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans imposed a moratorium on commercial mackerel fishing on the east coast. (CBC – photo credit)

PEI fishermen are concerned they won’t be able to fish for mackerel to use as bait this spring.

Last March, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans imposed a moratorium on commercial mackerel fishing on the east coast. At the time, DFO said mackerel stocks were low and needed time to recover.

Some fishermen say that this affects landings and that not being able to fish their own mackerel for bait is bad for business.

“In the US fisheries, I mean they’ve already given out their quota for the year and here we don’t know yet, but you know what we don’t catch they will catch and it’s actually worse for the fishery.” , said Trevor Barlow, lobsterman and co-chair of the Mackerel Committee with the PEI Fishermen’s Association.

“They don’t have as restricted a fishery as we do. They don’t have a minimum size so they can take fish that are a couple of inches long if they want and then we have to buy them as bait. We have no choice. “

Tony Davis/CBC

Tony Davis/CBC

Mackerel is used as bait for lobster and halibut, among other things.

At a standing legislative committee last year, PEIFA officials told the province’s MLAs that fishermen spent between $20,000 and $40,000 on bait during the spring 2022 fishing season.

“We paid, you know, record prices for bait. And you couldn’t always get what you wanted for bait, and it affected landings to some extent, too,” Barlow said.

“We can only import food grade fish to use as bait and as we all know the world is starving for food and we have to compete to get bait.”

PEIFA calls for an end to the mackerel moratorium.

“Last year many fishermen on the island had already stored their bait from the previous year. So the concerns we heard really related to what’s coming in 2023,” Melanie Giffin, marine biologist and program planner for the PEIFA.

Tony Davis/CBC

Tony Davis/CBC

Now, much of the mackerel supply that fishermen had was running out fast, Giffin said.

Last November, several fishing associations made recommendations to the Federal Standing Committee on Fisheries and the Seas. The main recommendation they put forward was to allow a target of 10 percent of the mackerel biomass that can be fished.

Climate change is affecting mackerel’s life cycle, Giffin said.

“We know that in Canada there is a small temporal offset for the larvae and food for the larvae of mackerel. So I think there’s still a lot to do on the science side,” she said.

“I think opening up this fishery and allowing 10 percent of the biomass would allow for more of these samples to come in and maybe more data to be collected.”

Robert Kurz/CBC

Robert Kurz/CBC

However, other groups are urging the DFO to keep the mackerel fishery closed due to population decline.

“We are really concerned about the mackerel stock. It has been at or below critical levels for the past 10 years,” said Katie Schleit, director of fisheries at Oceans North. The organization supports marine protection and climate protection.

“Not only are we deep in the critical zone where we don’t want to be, but we don’t see much hope in the coming years in terms of stock rebuilding,” Schleit said.

Giffin said she thinks more research needs to be done.

“There’s always this delicate balance between the science and what’s seen and what’s taken out of the water. That’s why we’ve improved reporting over the last few years to better understand the total removals in the mackerel fishery,” she said.

“Nobody wants that to be overfished. You know, fishermen don’t want that either. It is sustainability in the future. It’s a delicate balance, I just think we’re not getting that balance right at the moment.”

decision not yet made

DFO told CBC that no decision had yet been made on the spring mackerel fishery.

“A decision will be made upon completion of the scientific and consultation processes,” department officials said in an email.

“We will continue to make fisheries management decisions using the best available science for the long-term health of Canadian fisheries.”


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