Arctic Fisheries Alliance slams trawlers for catching too many immature fish
“What concerns us also is the fact that the DFO aren’t doing anything about this”
The Arctic Fishery Alliance, a group made up of hunters and trappers associations and community trusts from the Qikiqtarjuaq, Grise Fiord, Arctic Bay and Resolute Bay, is concerned about the over-harvest of small, immature turbot by deep sea trawlers operating in Nunavut waters.
And they say the issue has been long ignored by authorities.
At meetings held in Iqaluit for members of the Nunavut fishing industry to discuss an integrated fisheries management plan for turbot in zones 0A and 0B, which cover Davis Strait and Baffin Bay, the group was not permitted to make a presentation.
Their presentation, which contains research from Memorial University researcher Anna Olafsdottir, suggests that bottom trawling vessels catch too many young, immature fish — contrary to DFO guidelines.
“We see a problem because [of] the large number of small, immature halibut, or turbot that are being caught by certain gear types, mainly the larger trawlers,” Dave Bollivar, a fisheries and business consultant who’s worked with the AFA since 2008, said at a news conference at the Arctic Hotel in Iqaluit Jan. 11.
For the AFA, gillnets allow fishermen to be far more selective and catch a higher proportion of larger fish, because of larger holes in the net.
Olafsdottir’s research showed that gillnets catch less than 1 per cent of turbot under 45 centimetres, but trawlers catch 15 to 45 per cent of small turbot.
That’s despite a 15 per cent “small fish protocol,” Bollivar said.
The reason for the limit is so that small fish get an opportunity to spawn at least once.
“If you catch all the young, you don’t have any old fish to grow up and be able to spawn,” he said.
Since data collection started in the 1990s, there was only one year in 1996 that Nunavut’s trawler fishery stayed within DFO’s 15 per cent guideline.
Because they’re taking smaller fish, trawlers take twice as many of them out of the water to meet their quota, which is measured in tonnes, the consultant said.
The goal of trying to present the “objective, independent study” was to create increased awareness by everybody in the meeting on this “serious problem,” Bollivar said.
“What concerns us also, is the fact that the DFO [Department of Fisheries and Oceans] aren’t doing anything about this,” he said, adding the DFO should be enforcing the 15 per cent small fish protocol.
“If you see vessels doing that, you have the right to shut down that area where they’re fishing and require them to move to an area where they can catch larger fish,” Bollivar said.
“We need the department to show that they’re prepared to effectively address this issue of small fish that’s being harvested.”
Data for the presentation came from research vessel surveys, and info collected directly from fishing vessels.
That’s because when you’re fishing in area 0A, you have to have 100 per cent DFO observer coverage, meaning there would be a DFO representative on the boat at all times, Bollivar said.
But the presentation was never heard at this week’s fisheries management meetings.
“Because of objections by other members of the Nunavut fishing industry, we were denied the opportunity to make this presentation,” Bollivar said.
In the last few years, the most important by-value ground fish species has become the turbot.
“Turbot is now the most valuable species and a significant portion of that catch comes from off Nunavut,” Bollivar said.
The Nunavut turbot fishery has risen from being worth $40 million a year in 2005, to more than $70 million a year now, he said.
But there are some problems with the current data: researchers only know the length of the fish and not how mature they are.
This is because Canadian science paid no attention to the Arctic turbot stock until about 10 years ago, Bollivar said.
“As a result, we don’t have the good science that we need to properly manage the fishery,” he said.
“In the past 10 years, the total allowable catch for turbot off Greenland has doubled, despite what DFO scientists will admit, and what this study has reinforced, and minimal biological knowledge of the stock,” Bollivar said.
He recommended that more research be done.
And the AFA wants new regulations to reduce the number of small, immature turbot that are caught, as well as the mature turbot that are over 80 centimetres long and able to spawn.
Laisa Audlakiak-Watsko, an HTO representative from Grise Fiord, says the presentation was important to her because having a sustainable turbot fishery would conserve it for future generations.
“If any organization or institutions, such as Fisheries and Oceans comes up with a policy for a wise use of a resource, and then come up with a protocol such as small fish protocol, it is their responsibility to make sure that they implement it, and if people can’t implement it then there are consequences that will happen,” Audlakiak-Watsko said.
“They should be fair and equal with all participants,” she said.
Audlakiak-Watsko said although the AFA is a new organization, and are “the last ones getting into the game,” the communities and community members do have to be fairly represented.
“What we need to do at the community level is to have everyone informed and more information accessible to them to that all the stakeholders have the right information to make decisions,” she said.