Food Fishery Foolishness

According to the editorial in the April issue of The Navigator, the recreational/food fishery is the elephant in the room with respect to future cod fisheries management.

The editorial claimed that DFO cannot get a handle on the catch from the recreational fishery. I don’t understand.

DFO has had two recreational cod surveys done, 2005 and 2007. Both concluded and agreed that about 1,000,000 cod were caught each season, or around a couple of thousand metric tonnes. Pre-moratorium commercial landings are in the order of hundreds of thousands of metric tonnes, with the 1990 landings being around 250,000 metric tonnes (at a time of already depleted stocks).

In other words, the recent recreational fishery represents only one per cent of the last real commercial activity, (not counting the minor quotas of recent years).

One per cent is less than the noise in the data. In other words, recreational fishing for cod has no detectible effect on the cod stocks when measured against the commercial activity or the actual cod biomass.

In the hierarchy of predation effects on the species, one would think it goes like this: the top predator is the commercial fisher with very aggressive technology and the ability to fish practically anywhere, anytime. Next would be the larger animals, most notably seals, which are highly skilled and also able to chase the prey. Somewhere far below these two predators is the recreational fisher.

This fisher only has a hook and line, can only fish when the fish come near, when the weather is right, he’s got the time and he’s allowed. Apparently, according to the editorial, the effect of the first two factors is definable enough for management decisions, but not that of the recreational fisher.

The effect of six million seals though has been estimated — it is zero. I agree with that assessment. I also believe that the impact of a few thousand hooks spread all around the island on good weather days during the summer and fall has no effect either and the catch is insignificant (not even detectable with any degree of accuracy) against the actual biomass, or the commercial catch of an active cod fisheries.

The food fishery debate is foolishness and rural Newfoundland and Labrador is suffering because of it.

To put it in perspective and as stated earlier, DFO reported a million cod taken during the 2005 recreational fishery. Is this a lot of cod? DFO also reported three million trout caught during the 2000 trout season in N.L. Ontario anglers catch close to 100 million trout. The available resources (ocean vs. ponds and lakes) just do not compare. See web link:

I appreciate the magnitude of the reduction in cod stocks and those of many other species. But none of this was ever done or can be exacerbated by recreational or personal use fishers in Newfoundland and Labrador. There are just not enough recreational fishers to do it with the technology they use.

By analogy, recreational and personal use cod fishing traditionally could be represented as a drop in a very, very large barrel. Now it’s a drop in a small bucket. But it’s still only a drop.

Paying more than a cursory or academic interest to the quantity of fish caught during recreational and personal use fishing is simply wrong. The statistics do not support the restrictions placed on recreational and personal use fishers. It is like working on a leaky kitchen faucet when the pipes downstairs are broken.

Available resources should be applied to the rebuilding of the stocks in more meaningful ways. I suspect management policies (like quota systems) that encourage high grading and destructive technologies (like gill nets) that change the environment, have a much greater impact, than the recreational fishery.

Unfortunately for recreational and personal use fishers and the impacted communities, this fishery, like the leaky faucet, is highly visible and gets all the attention.

Recreational fishing for cod and other species should be promoted, both as a tourist activity and as a source of local, healthy food. The more activity which can be generated on the water in the bays and inlets around Newfoundland and Labrador, the better for everyone and our economy as we try to rebuild and maintain our connection to the sea.

I think the elephant in the room is a goat — a scapegoat.


“The province of Newfoundland and Labrador offers almost unlimited opportunities for residents to participate in the recreational cod fishery.


By Everett G. Fancey
St. John’s, N.L.

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