I am down in Nevada at the moment and listening to NPR radio while I drive.
I just heard a comment there that cod stocks were improving and that commercial fishermen wanted to get back fishing them. The commentator noted that he had sympathy for that point of view.
Well I sure the hell don’t. The commercial cod fishery has a lot to answer for.
The commercial fisheries raped the resource for years. Not only fishing well past the capacity of the resource, but dragging the seabed with some of the fishing techniques and destroying the habitat there as well.
A major factor that contributed to the depletion of the cod stocks off the shores of Newfoundland was the introduction and proliferation of equipment and technology that increased the volume of landed fish. For centuries local fishermen used technology that limited the volume of their catch, the area they fished, and allowed them to target specific species and ages of fish. From the 1950s onwards, as was common in all industries at the time, new technology was introduced that allowed fishermen to trawl a larger area, fish to a deeper depth and for a longer time. By the 1960s, powerful trawlers equipped with radar, electronic navigation systems and sonar allowed crews to pursue fish with unparalleled success, and Canadian catches peaked in the late 1970s and early 1980s. These new technologies adversely affected the Northern Cod population in two important ways: by increasing the area and depth that was fished, the cod were being depleted to the point that the surviving fish were incapable of replenishing the stock lost each year; and secondly, the trawlers caught enormous amounts of non-commercial fish, which although economically unimportant, held huge ecological significance: incidental catch undermines the functioning of the ecosystem as a whole, depleting stocks of important predator and prey species. In the case of the Northern Cod, significant amounts of capelin – an important prey species for the cod – were caught as bycatch, further undermining the survival of the remaining cod stock.
Their attitude was akin to the old buffalo hunters who competed to see who could kill the last buffalo. (OK, I know they’re Bison).
If you want to read an excellent book on the issue pick up a copy of Cod: A Biography of a Fish That Changed The World, by Mark Kurlansky. Or check on it at a used book store. A review of the book here.
However in doing a bit of google research (I didn’t get to hear the actual story on NPR) in appears that the North Sea cod are making a bit of a comeback, but the Newfoundland stocks are just holding their own at this point.
But of course we are still fishing them.
The cod population off of Newfoundland’s south coast is neither rising nor declining, reveals a Canadian Department of Fisheries and Ocean (DFO) research report released Wednesday.
This inconclusive assessment will be used by fisheries managers to set commercial quotas in the coming year.
“It’s certainly frustrating from everyone’s perspective, from our own and from the fisheries managers and indeed from the fishermen, too,” said John Brattey, a DFO research scientist.
The assessment addresses fishing zone 3PS, which has been in steady decline since 2000, reports CBC.
Recently, fishermen in the zone have reported catches of mature cod that are larger than those seen in recent years. This could mean the area is not being overfished, Brattey said.
He said, however, that it is too early to tell how many young fish will survive to maturity.
“We don’t feel that a single mathematical model can reconcile the information into a single assessment of the stock as a whole, so we don’t feel it would be appropriate to do it at this point,” he said.
Cod stocks off the south coast of Newfoundland are one of the healthiest in the area, but only in comparison to other stocks, which remain low.
It was only in April of last year that DFO scientists reported that cod population in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence had reached a record low point, with only 50,000 tonnes of cod remaining in the area.
The cod stock off the Island’s northeast coast remained in a diminished state even after more than 15 years of a total ban on cod fishing in the area.
The south coast was also closed to commercial fishing in 1992, and only limited areas were ever reopened.
Actually a large part of the blame has to be laid at the door of the federal government’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) which was (supposedly) responsible for managing the fishery and under whose watch the fishery collapsed. There are many complaints that they are equally responsible for problems in the westcoast fishery.
But then again the DFO can’t win no matter which route they take. If they allow the commercial fisheries to take precedence they get hammered by the conservation and environmental groups, and if they err on the side of a conservative strategy they get crucified by spokespersons for the commercial fishery.
The initial jubilation over the massive bounty of returning salmon sockeye is now being washed up in criticism, with Conservative MP John Cummins saying fishermen are furious with the way federal regulators have delayed the fishery.
“People are just disgusted with the way they’ve managed this, these guys haven’t a clue,” charged Cummins, an experienced commercial fisherman and MP for Delta-Richmond East.
Cummins says reports of a large return of Fraser River sockeye started coming in three weeks ago but the industry was forced to sit on the sidelines as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans refused to allow a fishery.
That delay is now the subject of intense debate, with one expert saying that millions of returning sockeye are going to overcrowd spawning grounds, causing significant numbers to die off before spawning — a terrible waste of fish that could have been caught earlier by fishermen.
Cummins agrees and is now calling for a shakeup at DFO.
Although I find the argument that fish performing their natural process of spawning and dying being a ‘waste’ of those fish pretty amusing, it is however consistent with statements that I have heard over the years from commercial fisheries people to the effect that any fish that got past the commercial nets were ‘wasted’.
We could also talk about commercially fishing down the food chain, but that’s another story.