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DFO refuses to release details of FFAW sentinel cod quota (even though it's for science)

Fisheries and Oceans refuses to release the amount of cod caught in this year’s sentinel or science-based test fisheries run by the FFAW-Unifor in waters around the province because the union is selling catches to fewer than five buyers. No wonder all three adjacent cod stocks are in the critical zone, DFO is off its head.

This picture was published by the FFAW-Unifor in 2019 to mark the 25th anniversary of the union-run sentinel fisheries, which began in 1995 as a means for fishermen to keep a first-hand check of the health of stocks in the absence of commercial fisheries.

DFO is speaking out of both sides of its mouth.

On one hand, DFO writes that “sentinel activity is for scientific purposes,” and on the other hand treats sentinel catches as if they’re commercial by refusing to release details under federal Treasury Board guidelines.

Those guidelines involve the so-called Rule of 5, meaning there must be a minimum of five enterprise owners and five buyers involved for the federal government to release catch information.

While dozens of inshore enterprises take part in the sentinel cod fisheries, DFO says there are fewer than five buyers. (Not if you include community sales.)

This is the first year that DFO hasn't released the information.

But there are two issues here:

1) the rule of 5 itself, which is ridiculous;

2) and what some fishermen see as an FFAW cod quota, and the conflicts of interest that creates.


The FFAW runs the sentinel fisheries under annual contract to the federal government, and the union itself says the program is for scientific purposes.

In 2017 the sentinel fisheries contracts were worth more than $1.1 million to the union, which also keeps the money from the sale of the fish.

In 2021, 70 tonnes of cod were set aside for sentinel fisheries, although the tonnage reached as high as 263 tonnes in 2015.

Questions have been raised about where the union sells the cod, the price per pound, how it was negotiated, and whether there's a potential for conflict of interest.


As the bargaining agent for inshore harvesters, the FFAW negotiates the price of cod.

In 2017, the union negotiated the price directly with Icewater Seafoods, the same Arnold’s Cove processing company where it's believed much of the union cod was sold.

The FFAW also represents unionized plant workers at the Arnold’s Cove operation, and workers aboard offshore trawlers that fish cod off the south coast in fishing zone 3Ps.

DFO also refuses to release those trawler catches under the rule of 5.


The rule of 5 is ridiculous in that prevents decision makers from being "accurately informed" by withholding information from them and the public.

Transparency should override private interests in the case of a common property resource like codfish, or any other commercial fish stock.

But the fact that the rule is been applied to a "science" quota says that the department has lost touch with reality all together.

The FFAW itself has come out against the rule of five.

Enterprise owners have questioned the purpose of continued sentinel fisheries with the resumption of the small-scale stewardship fishery off the northeast coast and Labrador.

In 2016, the landed value of the roughly 169 tonnes of cod landed in the sentinel fisheries was just over $197,000, according to information obtained through the federal Access to Information Act.

“We do not have anything to do with the sale of fish, and no revenue from fish sales are returned to DFO,” read an internal e-mail from DFO’s Ben Davis. “We do not know exactly how the revenues are spent by the contractor other than to defray project costs.”

There doesn’t appear to be any formal audit or reporting process in place to calculate the amount of money raised by the sale of cod caught through the sentinel program, or to determine how the money is spent.

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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