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DFO no idea what killed krill off south coast (took almost month just to confirm species)

Fisheries and Oceans has confirmed the species that washed up on the shores of Fortune Bay in late July were krill rather than shrimp, but officials have no idea what caused the die off. What’s clear is that given the 28 days it took DFO just to confirm the species — and given climate change, warming water temperatures, and rapidly changing marine environment — DFO NL should pick it up a notch in terms of response/investigation.

First spotted on July 24th (SEA-NL wrote about it here), over a period of several days thousands of pounds of dead krill washed ashore over a roughly 10-kilometre stretch between Garnish and Frenchman’s Cove, Fortune Bay. Photos by lobster fisherwoman Tonya Grandy.

On Aug. 24th, an official with Fisheries and Oceans in St. John's confirmed the species that washed up on the shores of Fortune Bay was krill.

A DFO official had said earlier in the month that it likely wouldn't be clear from observing the dead krill what killed them.

"The cause of death likely would have happened before they washed up on the shoreline. Water temperature may have been a contributing factor. Will know more and be able to provide a more thorough answer once our technicians look at the samples."

Only the "more thorough" answer never came.

Said the same DFO official on Aug. 24th: "Technicians have confirmed that the species that washed up are euphausiids, which are a species of krill rather than shrimp. There were no apparent causes for their death from the samples collected."

In June 2021 huge numbers of krill washed up on Long Beach, Trinity Bay, and DFO officials couldn't explain the die off.

DFO shrimp biologist Katherine Skanes said at the time it was her first time seeing the phenomenon in Newfoundland, but similar incidents had been seen elsewhere.

Thousands of migratory seabirds have been washing ashore on the Avalon and Burin peninsulas, but preliminary reports suggests the cause of death was avian flue.

Lobster harvester Tonya Grandy — who reported the dead krill in Fortune Bay to DFO — said the waters where the krill washed ashore are shallow lobster grounds, where various dead birds have washed up in recent months including turr, gannets, gulls, and puffins.

Tonya says DFO is not doing enough science.

Fortune Bay is also home to controversial aquaculture sites where massive die-offs have taken place in recent years.

In June 2019, some enterprise owners on the northeast coast reported a black, soot-like substance covering crab pots, with dead crab in the pots, and worms hanging off the mesh.

A DFO official later said that based on the pictures scientists believed the substance was slub.

While slub was the likely cause, it often seems the closest DFO officials/scientists get to the water and first-hand investigation is through the pictures fishermen send to them.

DFO's national headquarters on Kent Street in Ottawa is more accessible than the fortress that is the department's gated provincial head office in the White Hills of east end St. John's.

When the inshore fleet points out a phenomenon they haven't seen before, and DFO takes its sweet time to investigate/comment, there's a problem.

Keep in mind this is the same DFO that releases management plans days fisheries open, and whose fish science has been handicapped by research vessel breakdowns, and allegations of political interference.

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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