The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

About 23 years ago, I helped lead a team that designed and implemented the cod sentinel inshore survey on Northern cod (Southern Avalon, North East Coast and Labrador).

The status of Northern cod has been in the news a great deal lately and the decision by DFO to cut the commercial quota has been met with some stiff opposition from the FFAW-Unifor. This prompted me to do a little investigating to see what the cod sentinel is telling us about Northern cod.

Based on a review of cod sentinel information, by opposing the 2018 quota reduction by DFO, I can only conclude that the FFAW-Unifor and the Groundfish Industry Development Council (GIDC) appear to be ignoring the last five years of sentinel data.

According to information that I have been able to piece together, cod sentinel results are as follows:

  • Overall, during the 2016 cod sentinel fishery, participants hauled more nets with zero cod in them than they did in 1995.
  • Cod condition declined significantly.
  • Gillnet catch rates had been declining. The southern area has been declining since 2013 and 2017 is lower than 1995. During 2017, the central area was about 35 per cent less and the northern area was about 50 per cent less than they were during 2015.
  • During the last few years, the 5.5-inch mesh gillnet catch has been dominated with six-year-old and older cod with very few three to five-year-old cod being caught.
  • Recruitment has been poor.

Based on the FFAW-Unifor position on the cut to the 2018 quota (they were against it), I was surprised to learn that the declining trend in sentinel is not new and it began up to five years ago. While this negative trend was building, the FFAW-Unifor and the GIDC put a plan in place that saw the quota being doubled.

While the trends were known, the FFAW-Unifor still talked about how cod sentinel provides valuable information from the fishing industry. While the trends were known, a GIDC recent press release said that good science is now playing a role in helping Northern cod.

Is the direction of the trendline the reason why sentinel information has not been made public recently?

Everyone knows that ignoring information from the inshore helped cause the 1992 Northern cod moratorium. The FFAW-Unifor brags about how great cod sentinel and its “science” department is, but they clearly appear to be ignoring the declining trend in the data.

Is the sentinel trend wrong? If it is, then DFO and fish harvesters (not just some union executives) should consult and revise the program to fix deficiencies or chart a new way forward.

Is the sentinel trend a true reflection of what the recent trend in stock status has been?  If it is, then the FFAW-Unifor and the GIDC should stop playing politics with cod and the future of the inshore fishery and our rural communities that depend on it.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

What or whom will the next moratorium be blamed on?


Harvey Jarvis
Portugal Cove-St. Philips


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