Groundfish Council Influencing Changes to N.L. Cod Fishery

The Newfoundland and Labrador Groundfish Industry Development Council (GIDC) has only been in existence for 10 months, but has already made an impact on the province’s fishery.

In April 2016, the union representing fishermen and plant workers (Fish Food and Allied Workers – FFAW) announced it had teamed up with some of the province’s fish processors to form the GIDC, with the goal of facilitating inter-industry cooperation in the revitalization of the groundfish industry.

Jim Baird

The organization’s goal is to work together in the development of collaborative, industry-led solutions to issues that will arise as the fishing industry transitions back to groundfish, specifically, for now, with the 2J3KL cod stock. The council set out to form a united lobby in order to provide advice and input on programs, policies, management plans and other initiatives from the governments of Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Regarding the genesis of the organization, GIDC Independent Chair Jim Baird explained that the latest DFO science suggested the 2J3KL cod stock was rebuilding quickly and over the next three years the stock is expected to grow by 30 per cent per year.

“That clearly gave people a level of excitement and there was a realization that the people in the industry got to get together and work together. In the history (of the fishery) there has been a lot of acrimony between fish processors and the union of fish harvesters. There have been rough negotiations on price and a lack of trust in the past. But a group came together this year in the spring — five processors and the union got together and said we have to do something if we are going to make this fishery work and move away where we were in 1992 when the fishery closed.”

One of the five founding processors to sign on to the GIDC was Beothic Fish Processors. Company executive vice-president Paul Grant explained that both the processors and the union recognized the need for a plan if this emerging groundfish fishery was to show any signs of moving forward.

“The union has been asking us, do you as a company have a plan to get back into groundfish? Our message to the union was this has to be operated as a business and requires a significant investment. So if you are going to make it into a business, we are going to have to do something about quality, the length of the season and the concept has to be sold to banks. With this understanding, this is what really brought us together.”

Paul Grant

In describing the need for the GIDC, FFAW president Keith Sullivan said much has changed in the economy, society and culture of Newfoundland and Labrador in the 25 years since the groundfish moratoriums, which included cod, were first implemented. “As the fishery begins another transition period, stakeholders must work together to develop a strategic vision for the future of the groundfish industry.”

The GIDC is comprised of equal representation from the harvesting and processing sectors. The harvesting members on the council will be represented by the FFAW, while the processing sector will be represented by individuals from various N.L.-based processing companies.

Currently members include:

FFAW-Unifor (50 per cent of board of directors

Processors (10) (50 per cent of board of directors)

  1. The Barry Group
  2. Beothic Fish Processors
  3. Fogo Island Co-op
  4. Allen’s Fisheries
  5. Golden Shell Fisheries
  6. Happy Adventures Sea Products
  7. Codroy Seafoods Limited
  8. Avalon Ocean Products
  9. Harbour Seafoods
  10. Deep Atlantic Sea Products

Ex Officio Members

  1. Department of Fisheries and Oceans
  2. Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agrifoods
  3. World Wildlife Fund
  4. Whitecap International Seafood Exporters

Baird explained that the GIDC’s mandate is to develop a “plate to ocean” strategic plan to revitalize the province’s groundfish industry, with an emphasis on the maximization of the export value of N.L. groundfish products, while improving the economic viability and the long-term sustainability of owner-operator enterprises, onshore processing plants and coastal communities.

Keith Sullivan

And despite this union/processor collaboration being relatively new, it did not take long this year for the GIDC to have an impact on the province’s emerging cod fishery.

On August 12, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) confirmed, what has been speculated in the industry for several months — groundfish limits would be increasing — at least for 2016.

DFO explained that the one-year management plan for the 2016 Northern cod Stewardship/by-catch fishery for Divisions 2J3KL was based on a proposal submitted by the GIDC.

The 2016 fishery moved away from the three-week individual quota (IQ) based system (5,000 pounds (2,268 kg), round weight per licence holder), to a regime that included an extended season, weekly landing limits of up to 3,000 pounds, elimination of individual quotas and removal of the requirement to fish within the fishermen’s home bay. In total, it is estimated that between 10,000-11,000 tonnes of cod were landed during this revamped fishery.

The FFAW expressed pleasure in how this fishery was prosecuted.

“We’ve heard from harvesters around the province who have benefitted from the improvements to this year’s fishery,” Sullivan said. “While this is only the first step, it is clear that there is a bright future for the next generation of fish harvesters with the return of Northern cod.”

Sullivan added that with a management plan focused on quality and a grading system in place that rewards for quality and holds the processors accountable, many harvesters are reporting a successful season with 75-80 per cent of the cod landed being grade A, up 10 per cent from last year.

Baird said the council’s main 2016 focus was on 2J3KL cod and was pleased that DFO accepted the GIDC proposal, but added that there is still much work to do to rebuild markets for N.L. cod production.

He said in 2017, the GIDC will be focused on the following:

  • Continuing to promote the NL-GIDC and groundfish harvesting and processing in Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Prepare and submit a 2017 2J3KL cod stewardship proposal for submission to DFO — emphasizing that council members need to start thinking about this at an early date
  • Continue to promote the culture of quality in all fisheries
  • Continue to support the FFAW Fisheries, Science Stewardship and Sustainability Board (FSSSB) cod quality project
  • Continue to work on the 2J3KL Cod Fishery Improvement Project
  • Prepare this fishery for MSC certification when appropriate
  • Expand the Council’s work to other Groundfish Species

Kerry Hann

Managing Editor of The Navigator Magazine.

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