Yesterday evening, DFO announced new fishing closures that will severely impact fish harvesters in Newfoundland and Labrador. FFAW-Unifor and its members fully supports efforts to protect marine ecosystems, however DFO’s approach with this most recent announcement was pushed forward despite requests for additional consultation and evidence.
Two of the refuges in question, the Hawke Channel and Funk Island Deep, purport to conserve seafloor habitat important to northern cod by ceasing all fishing activity in these areas. FFAW-Unifor questions whether these refuges are best placed to protect northern cod habitat.
During the consultation process, FFAW-Unifor requested information to support DFO’s claim that the Hawke Box and Funk Island Deep closures will protect vulnerable life-stages of northern cod (i.e. pre-spawning and spawning aggregations). To date, the only information provided by DFO is a copy of a 2017 Kincaid and Rose paper, which includes the statement, “Overall, although it is uncertain if the Hawke Box has played a role in the rebuilding of the Northern Cod, the evidence is that at a minimum it has done no harm.” This is not sufficient evidence to close an area to fishing gears with no impact on the species meant to be protected. Harvesters who fished turbot using longline in the Hawke Channel this year reported no cod bycatch. Despite this, these and other harvesters will be shut out.
Another closure identified by DFO is the Northeast Newfoundland Slope (formerly known as Tobin’s Point). The area announced by DFO yesterday is different than what was presented in discussions, resulting in concerns about DFO’s consultation process with stakeholders. This closure prohibits all bottom contact fishing activities and will have significant impact on turbot harvesters, limiting their fishing grounds. The number of active turbot harvesters in the area has more than doubled since 2013, and this is a crucial source of income for our members. Moreover, a section of the area that excludes fish harvesting activities does not apply towards marine conservation targets.
“These area closures were pushed forward despite a lack of evidence that the objectives will benefit target species– particularly with respect to northern cod. Most concerning, oil and gas and seismic activity will continue in these areas, calling into question whether these closures will be able to achieve their conservation goals,” says FFAW-Unifor President Keith Sullivan. “These closures will certainly shut harvesters out, while letting other sectors in,” Sullivan adds.
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