Another marine fishery is facing a big quota cut this year; the only question is how big.
This time it’s the big herring fishery in southwestern Nova Scotia and the Bay of Fundy.
The stock is in the hotspot where serious damage is taking place, but the fishery employs hundreds of people in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
What happens next will 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 drop from 35,000 tons to 13,050 tons, a 62.7% cut.
That advice is the result of an evaluation of the management strategy, 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 catch allowed to achieve the desired result. The objective in this case is to remove the herring population from the critical zone.
DFO has declined to say whether it has decided to use advice from the management strategy evaluation.
A department spokesperson told CBC News in an email that a decision on the fee 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 offered to cut the fee by 30 percent.
In a press release, the Bay of Fundy Herring Industry said it would be prepared to reduce the total allowable catch from 35,000 tons to 25,000 tons for the 2022 season.
“Our fishery recognizes the need for caution and to promote the revitalization of stocks,” Noël Després, president of Saulnierville-based Comeau Seafoods, said in the statement.
Most of the quota is caught by purse seiners, boats that use large nets to surround a school of herring as it surfaces.
The industry said it has taken voluntary conservation action, citing major closures of spawning grounds, seasonal and weekend closures, and protections for juvenile fish.
“Our rebuilding efforts are showing signs of success, although it’s going a bit slower than we expected,” said Tony Hooper of Connors Bros., based in Blacks Harbour, NB.
Looking to pause the process
Industry leaders are also calling on DFO to halt the management strategy evaluation process, claiming the model is flawed.
“More work needs to be done before it can be implemented,” said Tim Kaiser of Scotia Garden Seafood Inc., based in Yarmouth, NS.
“We are seeing inconsistencies in the model, and the best we can do now is to pause briefly, come back to the table and resolve these issues before making long-term decisions for the fishery.”
Environmentalist Sebastian Pardo said the management strategy evaluation has been under development since 2019. The model was finalized after a review by DFO and outside scientists.
“For the most part, the bottom line was that the science is sound,” said Pardo, coordinator of sustainable fisheries at the Ecological Action Center in Halifax.
The proposed cut is much larger in tonnage than the total closures imposed on the Atlantic mackerel and Gulf of St. Lawrence spring herring fisheries earlier this year.
“This is a much more difficult decision in terms of economic consequences. Any TAC [total allowable catch] such a large reduction would be very painful for the industry and would have great consequences,” Pardo said.
“From a conservation perspective, this population has been in the hotspot for some time and sequential TAC reductions that have occurred in the past have not resulted in population recovery.
“I think this is an important test.”
West Nova MP Chris d’Entremont represents a conduction in Nova Scotia that is home to large herring processing plants and purse seine ports.
“We understand there has to be change. The biomass may not be there when we need it, but there are also other considerations that need to be addressed,” 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 business.
“Here at Connors we can deal with a certain level of change in TAC from year to year, but we can’t change our inputs and outputs overnight,” Hooper said.
“It’s hard to keep the plant viable if we see drastic cuts in the TAC at short notice.”