The MSC certificate holders for the offshore 3Ps cod fishery announced Friday that they would be voluntarily suspending their certificate, essentially agreeing that the 3Ps cod stock is in trouble and should not subjected to current offshore fishing methods. This announcement reaffirms the position that offshore draggers should not be operating in the vulnerable 3Ps area.
FFAW-Unifor objected to the MSC certification of the 3Ps cod fishery since the beginning of the certification process in 2014. Our concerns were based on a number of factors, the largest being that the assessment of the stock was overly optimistic. The MSC did not include declining catch rates and high unexplained mortality but relied solely on estimates of spawning stock.
“It is clear that the offshore companies ‘voluntarily’ removing the certificate for this stock is nothing more than a tactic to save face. Despite being the largest stakeholder in the 3Ps cod fishery, the inshore sector was not part of the MSC client group,” says FFAW-Unifor President Keith Sullivan. “Inshore harvesters and our coastal communities must be the primary beneficiaries of the stock, and future management must be advised by the voices of harvesters on the water,” added Sullivan.
As of May 2017, the certification was undergoing its one year audit. This audit would have undoubtedly resulted in the offshore having the certificate stripped for failing to meet its obligations in the process, and would have supported the concerns raised by FFAW-Unifor.
The 2016 stock assessment for 3Ps strongly indicated that the 3Ps cod stock was trending differently than in other areas of the province. As a result, the 2017 Total Allocation of 3Ps cod is expected to be cut by more than 50 per cent. This would result in an overall total allowable catch (TAC) of much less than 10,000 tonnes. In the past when the quota was set below this level, the offshore sector did not participate.
MSC certification placed a number of conditions on the fishery that are to be met within the first four years. Given that the 3Ps cod stock is struggling, the ability for offshore MSC certificate holders to meet the first condition – that the stock be in the healthy zone within 4 years – is extremely unlikely. Offshore companies were also required to submit and present an action plan during the Groundfish Advisory for stakeholders to review and have input, which they failed to do.
The cod stocks in 3Ps are in a vulnerable state and the federal government must protect the resource and the communities adjacent by removing the offshore draggers from fishing in the area. The offshore industrial dragger fishery operates during times of high aggregation pre-spawning periods, which continues to threaten a rebuilding stock. The last time the quota was at its most vulnerable, the offshore industrial dragger fleet did not participate in the fishery.
It is clear that the voluntary suspension of the certificate does nothing for the actual sustainability of the stock and is a tactic of optics. The offshore have not committed to changing its harvesting practices.
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