Federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray announced Wednesday that there will be no commercial or bait fishing for herring in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Atlantic mackerel in Atlantic Canada and Quebec. .
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) said urgent action must be taken to give stocks a chance to recover and to ensure the long-term sustainability and prosperity of East Coast fisheries.
But the decision does not please the fishing community.
“We are shocked by this sweeping decision by Minister Murray,” said Martin Mallet, executive director of the Maritime Fishermen’s Union, which represents more than 1,300 fishermen.
“We are appalled at the impact of this decision on our fishermen [and] the coastal communities and workers who depend on these fisheries.”
Herring and mackerel play a vital role in both the fishing industry and in ocean ecosystems. They are an important food source for other species, including tuna and Atlantic cod. But they are also a traditional source of bait in many commercial fisheries, including lobster, snow crab and halibut.
“We don’t know how this decision will affect overall bait supply and access, or price,” Mallet said.
Mallet said the closures would have an “atomic bomb impact”.
He said DFO did not contact the union about the closures before the announcement.
The sentiment was shared by Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union officials, who said fishermen were “shocked” by Wednesday’s announcement. Union president Keith Sullivan said in a statement on Wednesday that fishermen would suffer from the decision.
“The announcement of a moratorium on mackerel fishing is another example of how [the Fisheries Department] and Minister Joyce Murray would rather eliminate livelihoods than do the actual work that needs to be done,” Sullivan said.
The moratorium should not come as a total surprise. DFO has taken many steps in recent years to rebuild the species. For herring, it put in place daily catch limits, the minimum size of mesh holes in nets, and imposed limits on the overall size and number of nets.
But the measures weren’t enough as stocks reached what DFO calls a “critical zone.” Now DFO hopes that the reduction in fishing will help stocks mature and reproduce.
Katie Schleit, senior fisheries adviser at Oceans North, a charity that promotes science and community conservation programs, was not surprised by the announcement.
“This kind of news is hard to digest but it’s been a long time,” she said. “These two particular forage stocks have been critically depleted for over a decade and unfortunately that was the only decision left to be made.”
Closures will be reviewed by DFO following subsequent stock assessments.
Food, social and ceremonial fisheries for First Nations communities will remain open for herring and Atlantic mackerel.
The recreational mackerel fishery will also remain open, but the daily limit of 20 mackerel put in place last year will be maintained.