Sunday, August 14, 2022

Mackerel closure causes bait concerns as fishers prepare for lobster season

Questions also raised around licences, compensation

  • April 6 2022
  • By Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    

GUYSBOROUGH – Minister of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) Joyce Murray announced on March 30 that there would be no directed commercial or bait fishing for southern gulf spring herring and a closure of the Atlantic mackerel commercial and bait fisheries this year in Atlantic Canada and Quebec.

These species, southern gulf spring herring and Atlantic mackerel, are an important food source for other species, including tuna and Atlantic cod, and are a traditional source of bait in some commercial fisheries, including lobster and snow crab. They have also been listed in the critical zone for years, which is why DFO has taken and continues to take measures to give these stocks a chance to recover and ensure the long-term sustainability and prosperity of east coast fisheries.

Last year, the Atlantic mackerel quota was cut in half in May, just prior to the beginning of the harvest window for the species along the Eastern Shore. That’s why this year, Murray told The Journal in an interview March 30, “I am making this decision early to give people a chance to adjust their bait sources for their fishery.”

She added, “I know this is a difficult decision that has an impact on harvesters and their community particularly in your area.”

Industry reaction

Shortly after the news release was issued, The Journal spoke with Guysborough County Inshore Fisherman’s Association Manager Ginny Boudreau about the Atlantic mackerel closure and the impact she anticipates this move will have on association members and the communities in Guysborough County.

Boudreau’s first concern was about what was not covered in the DFO news release: loss of licences and lack of compensation.

Loss of licences

“My first comment and concern is that future access to the Atlantic mackerel fishery will be dependent on the duration of the closure and the health of the stock, when the moratorium is lifted. Currently, the licence holders in all of Atlantic Canada have not been reissued their commercial mackerel licences for 2022…those licenses have essentially been taken away from them…How you can just take thousands of licences out of the commercial fishery and not even a mention of that in the news release?... that’s huge,” said Boudreau.

“Not that it’s a huge shock … We were expecting a decrease in the quota and some additional measures, but we did not expect to have our licences taken away from us. I can’t stress that enough,” she said.

When and if the Atlantic mackerel fishery opens, Boudreau doesn’t expect many licences will come back to those who lost them this year. “Any new access is going to be given to First Nations communities first…because these licenses no longer exist, as of this year, it’ll be new access. So, you’re not getting back in.”

Boudreau said that mackerel trap licence holders were issued renewal fees so the licences aren’t lost, but they cannot fish under the announced commercial and bait fishery closure this year.

Compensation question

“That was a lucrative fishery here in the spring and employed quite a few families in these communities,” said Boudreau, adding, “So, that revenue is lost to that harvester, to the crew, to those families, to the community. And there’s not compensation; there’s no discussion of compensation and there’s not even any recognition that these communities and harvesters are going to be needing to be compensated.”

No compensation was mentioned regarding those who’ve lost income to the commercial net fishery either, “And, it doesn’t seem that there’s a whole lot of concern about that,” said Boudreau. “Now, it’s hard to pick up on concern on a piece of paper. And that’s how we were notified, with a piece of paper,” said Boudreau.

Cut bait

News of the mackerel closure comes as fish harvesters in Guysborough County prepare for lobster season. Many harvesters in this region catch their bait, Atlantic mackerel, or buy some portion of their bait, also mainly Atlantic mackerel. Any harvester who has a licence that requires bait are eligible for a bait licence, but this year that licence is literally useless.

“We use mackerel in this area for two reasons: number one it’s accessible, number two it’s effective. It’s a natural species in our environment and that’s something that lobster are going to eat so that helps us when we put them in the trap to catch them, right, there’s a reason we use mackerel…It’s not as simple as saying ‘use a different alternate,’” said Boudreau.

Technically, local harvesters could use herring, but Boudreau said they are not plentiful in this area and the ones that generally can be found on this end of the Eastern Shore are undersized and cannot be kept if caught. The option for bait will come from overseas.

Boudreau said of the U.S. supply of bait mackerel, “I would say if they’re down to 5,000 tonnes there will be very little left over from their own fisheries to export to another country so we will buy more of our bait from Europe or Japan or Greenland, because they have lucrative mackerel fisheries.”

Another possible option is red fish from the gulf. “We have some success with using red fish cuttings … we are hoping that we’ll be able to have some discussions and maybe do some collaborative work on that Gulf fishery … but it’s not there yet,” said Boudreau, adding that meanwhile the price of bait is continually rising.

Boudreau knows the mackerel stock is in trouble, but she thinks more should be done to address all factors contributing to their decline, not just the fishing quota.

“We’re the easy target, we’re low hanging fruit,” said Boudreau, “So, shut us off the water and the mackerel are going to just recover like crazy because we’re the only factor … no we’re not.”

Science model

Last year, when the quota cut was made, then-DFO Minister Bernadette Jordan said, “I am hopeful that this decision will lead to growth in the stock over the next two years, as demonstrated by the science model.”

The Journal asked Murray what changed in the model projection to require a complete closure of the Atlantic mackerel fishery this year. “I am operating under the same model and that was a model where this is in the critical zone and Minister Jordan stepped down the fishing of it and I’m taking that next step,” she said. “I’m building on what she did based on the same model.

“This is very consistent with the direction that we’ve gone with respect to protecting mackerel over the years. We’ve actually gone from 50,000 tonnes just 10 or so years ago down to 4,000 last year and this is another step that’s needed, a necessary step towards protecting the health of the species. This is a species that is critical to the long-term sustainability of other species like cod, like tuna, like salmon so my aim is to manage the stock so that it can breed and grow and have new age classes and become a sustainable stock once again that can be fished,” said Murray.

She added, “I can tell you this is, in my view, the right thing to do, a necessary decision and I do understand that this is an important source of bait for other fisheries like crab and lobster. That I’ve also checked into, quiet thoroughly, the fact that there are alternates for the crab and lobster fisheries in terms of sources of bait.”

Mitigating factors

Last year, when the quota was cut, the Guysborough County Inshore Fisherman’s Association noted that Canada’s reductions would do little to help the stock if the United States failed to move on protective measures as Atlantic mackerel don’t recognize international border lines.

Murray said, “I know the U.S. is also recognizing the frailty of the stock and has just done a very large TAC [total allowable catch] reduction. I think they’re down to about 5,000 tonnes from 17 the year before. That is a pretty good indication that their science, like ours, is showing that we need to drastically reduce fishing of the stock…They’re a year behind us but they’re going in absolutely the same direction.”

The Journal asked Murray about the other factors impacting Atlantic mackerel stock and how much those factors, such as available food for mackerel and seal predation, had been taken into consideration when the decision was made to close the fishery.

“I think there’s multiple impacts on the stock including climate change,” said Murray, “I will say that for seal predation, under a previous minster we set [the] Atlantic Seal Science Task Team in place to look at the science of seal and fish and to provide some recommendations and I welcome those recommendations, which I think will be coming soon.

“Food sources for these fish are limited … so having fishing pressures on top of these other challenges they face, has proven to put them into a vulnerable shape, which I think makes our cod, Atlantic salmon and tuna also vulnerable. It’s a whole ecosystem-based approach where we think about these stocks and their importance in having a balanced ecosystem…we have to protect stocks that are vulnerable so that they can recover and be abundant and that’s what this is all about,” said Murray.

The full news release from DFO can be found online at