Baffin fisheries group disputes AFA turbot allegations
“This is not a resource issue, or conservation issue, this is more or less an effort to get more quota”
The Nunavut turbot fishing industry is sustainable and the stock is growing, said Jerry Ward, chief executive officer of the Baffin Fisheries Coalition.
That’s in response to the Arctic Fisheries Alliance’s recent complaint that too many small, immature turbot are being taken out of Nunavut waters by trawlers along Baffin Bay and Davis Strait, sub-areas 0A and 0B.
Ward said the purpose of last week’s meetings in Iqaluit were to discuss a new integrated fisheries management plan for turbot in 0A and 0B, and to talk about management practices with allocation holders such as the BFC, AFA, Cumberland Sound Fisheries, and Qikiqtaaluk Fisheries.
“These meetings are for industry stakeholders and participants, not to have elected officials represented. This is supposedly a non-political meeting, it is to deal with the facts, and to look at the science,” he said.
The AFA said they were denied permission to present information about the Department of Fisheries and Ocean’s lack of action on “small fish protocol” violations by Nunavut trawlers.
But discussions about the territory’s turbot fishery shouldn’t pit mobile gear vessels such as trawlers against fixed gear vessels such as gillnets, Ward said.
“The stock is healthy, the stock is growing and what was decided at that meeting should not be a pitting of fixed gear versus mobile gear,” he said.
“This is not a resource issue, or conservation issue, this is more or less an effort to get more quota from one group versus the other,” Ward said.
The integrated fisheries management plan in place now dates back to 2008.
Because of this, the meeting was “long overdue,” and should have taken place 12 to 18 months ago, Ward said.
In order to give presentations at such meetings, there are protocols to go through, he said.
“In this case, protocol wasn’t followed and at the last minute, at the same day of the meeting there was a proposal put forward to address certain issues,” Ward said, of the AFA’s independent presentation.
“The reality of that situation is that DFO had presented the same report, just an hour before, the same findings,” he said.
However, concerns about the harvest of too many small fish, which was the focus of the AFA’s presentation, depends on the state of the stock, he added.
“DFO stated very clearly at this meeting that this stock was in exceptional good state, was not being over-fished,” Ward said.
In response to the AFA’s presentation regarding the violation of the small fish protocol, which states that only 15 per cent of fish under 45 cm can be caught, Ward said the BFC corrected that problem after they learned about it.
“In year one , we were somewhere around 45 per cent small fish. It was a good reason because the mesh size used in the first year… it was much smaller than it should have been,” he said.
The BFC addressed that issue the next year, reducing their small fish catch from 45 per cent to 26 per cent in one year, Ward said.
Ward said he doesn’t think that the small fish protocol violation concerns were purely conservational.
“I heard no mention of the fact that you catch large female, roe bearing fish [with gillnets], I heard no mention of that fact you may have some people lose nets and they continue to fish,” he said.
And the CEO said the percentage of fish that the BFC catches is low compared to Southern fisheries.
However, he agrees that more research needs to be done on the turbot stock in Nunavut.
“What we should be fighting for, is to ensure that DFO continues to put financial wherewithal into doing surveys on an annual basis,” he said.
The BFC was formed in 2001 to help develop a Nunavut offshore turbot fishery.
The coalition operates three vessels, one mobile gear that fishes turbot and shrimp, and two fixed gear, which fish only turbot and are gillnetters exclusively.