Another Maritimes fishery is facing a major quota cut this year – the only question is how big.
This time it’s the great herring fishery in southwest Nova Scotia and the Bay of Fundy.
The stock is in the critical zone where serious damage occurs, but the fishery employs hundreds of people in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
What happens next will once again test how far Canada’s fisheries minister is willing to go to rebuild a depleted stock.
63% cut looms
If DFO decides to use a new modeling process, the quota would likely be reduced from 35,000 tonnes to 13,050 tonnes, a reduction of 62.7%.
This advice is the result of a management strategy evaluation, which is being used to produce a total allowable catch for this herring fishery for the first time.
The simulation-based process determines the quota or total allowable catch to achieve a desired outcome. The objective in this case is to get the herring stock out of the critical zone.
DFO declined to say whether it decided to use the advice from the management strategy evaluation.
A department spokesperson told CBC News in an email that a decision on the quota would be announced in the coming weeks.
The Bay of Fundy season opens in June.
The industry proposes a smaller cut
An industry group has proposed reducing the quota by 30%.
In a press release, Bay of Fundy Herring Industry said it would be prepared to reduce the total allowable catch to 25,000 tonnes from 35,000 tonnes for the 2022 season.
“Our fishery recognizes the need to be cautious and to encourage stock revitalization,” Noël Després, president of Comeau Seafoods of Saulnierville, said in the statement.
Most of the quota is caught by seiners – boats that use large nets to circle a school of herring as it comes to the surface.
The industry said it has taken voluntary conservation measures, citing extensive spawning ground closures, seasonal and weekend closures and protections for juvenile fish.
“Our rebuilding efforts are showing signs of success, albeit going a little slower than we anticipated,” said Tony Hooper of Connors Bros., based in Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick.
Seeking to suspend the process
Industry leaders are also calling on DFO to suspend the management strategy evaluation process, saying the modeling is flawed.
“More work needs to be done before it can be implemented,” said Tim Kaiser of Scotia Garden Seafood Inc., based in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.
“We are seeing some inconsistencies in the model, and the best thing we can do now is to take a brief break, come back to the table, and resolve those issues before making any long-term decisions for the fishery.”
Environmentalist Sebastian Pardo said the management strategy assessment had been under development since 2019. The model was finalized after review by DFO and external scientists.
“Essentially, the conclusion was that the science is sound,” said Pardo, sustainable fisheries coordinator at the Ecology Action Center in Halifax.
The proposed reduction is much larger in tonnage than the total closures imposed on the Atlantic mackerel and spring herring fisheries in the Gulf of St. Lawrence earlier this year.
“It is a much more difficult decision in terms of economic consequences. All TAC [total allowable catch] such a large reduction would be very painful for the industry and would have major consequences,” Pardo said.
“From a conservation perspective, this stock has been in the critical zone for some time and the sequential TAC reductions that have occurred in the past have not resulted in a rebuilding of the population.
“I think this is a major test.”
West Nova MLA Chris d’Entremont represents a Nova Scotia riding that is home to large herring processing plants and seiner ports.
“We understand that there needs to be changes. Biomass may not be there the way we need it, but there are also other considerations that need to be brought forward,” d’Entremont told CBC. News.
Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Steve Craig plans to meet with industry representatives next week to discuss the quota.
Meanwhile, the herring industry is warning DFO that sudden and significant changes could be disastrous for businesses.
“Here at Connors, we can deal with some level of TAC change from year to year, but we can’t change our inputs and products overnight,” Hooper said.
“It is difficult to maintain plant viability if we see drastic TAC reductions in the short term.”