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DFO addresses discards/dumping in herring fishery with introduction of small-fish protocol

Fourteen months after SEA-NL condemned DFO’s sample-at-sea policy in this province’s herring fishery that leads to discards or the dumping of dead fish, the department is preparing to introduce a small-fish protocol to end the backward practice.

SEA-NL posted pictures like this one in November 2021 that showed hundreds of thousands of pounds of herring discarded at sea. The sampling-at-sea process to determine average herring size often damages scales, which can kill the fish.

In this province, when a seiner catches herring samples must be taken at sea to measure for small-fish tolerance, and if more than 20% (in most areas) is found to be under the minimum size of 24.76 cm (9.75 inches) the fish must be released.

Only the sampling procedure often kills herring by damaging fish scales.

At the same time, herring caught in the purse seine fishery in DFO's Gulf Region (fishing zone 4T) is not sampled at sea — but when the fishing boat lands, so that there are no discards.

Known as the small-fish protocol, the policy basically reduces the overall purse seine quota based on the percentage of small fish landed.

In other words, no fish is wasted.

SEA-NL also passed a resolution to that effect during our founding convention in February 2022.

On Dec. 23rd, DFO finally announced the introduction of a small-fish protocol as a pilot project off western Newfoundland in the Gulf (fishing zone 4R) — specifically for the over 65’ purse seine herring fleet.”

As for the under 65' fleet, a DFO official said the department was initially told (presumably by the FFAW during "working groups") they were not interested in the small-fish protocol, but once word got around about the over 65' pilot project the union submitted a proposal.

Word on the wharf is that proposal will also be approved.

Almost 47 million pounds of herring were landed in Newfoundland and Labrador waters last year with a landed value of $8.2 million, and average landed price of 17.6¢/lb (DFO figures). The herring price is a "floating" one, meaning it is negotiated between harvester and processor.

DFO officials have said the small-fish protocol can not be implemented in Newfoundland and Labrador's east coast herring fishery — which has been flat out for weeks — until the department has an estimate of the total herring biomass, which could take a couple of more years.

Until then, God only knows how many millions of pounds of herring will be discarded/dumped.

SEA-NL takes the that the small-small protocol should be introduced immediately in all waters around the province


During a herring advisory meeting this past November in Gander, DFO officials pretty much said (without saying) that the minimum herring size caught off eastern Newfoundland and Labrador will be lowered on April 1, 2023 from the current 24.76 cm (9.75 inches).

DFO officials wouldn't say how much the minimum size would be lowered, but the minimum herring length in the Maritimes is 18 cm (6.76 cm shorter than this province).

Fishermen in this province are adament that herring off Newfoundland's east/south coasts are becoming sexually mature at a smaller size.

Ryan Cleary, Executive Director, SEA-NL Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SEA-NL) is a professional, non-profit organization serving as the distinct voice for licensed, independent owner-operator inshore fish harvesters. You can read more about SEA-NL, and join us here.

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