At the same time that DFO’s lead scientist on northern shrimp reported a “slight decrease” in the stock in shrimp fishing area (SFA) 6 from Cartwright to Nortre Dame Bay — the area most fished by the inshore fleet — she acknowledged a 30% reduction in trawl survey coverage.
The coverage was down because a DFO survey vessel wasn’t available to do the work (I’ll dig into that), and at the same time the surveys were reduced, the inshore fleet reported 2021 catch rates as the best in recent years.
“To me there’s a lot of uncertainty in the science,” said La Scie fisherman Terry Ryan. “The 30% reduction in surveys might have been in areas where we do our best fishing.”
DFO's Katherine Skanes said later "there were no whole-areas of NAFO Divisions 2HJ3K left completely un-surveyed in depths shallower than 750m. The survey coverage was thinner over the three NAFO divisions."
Owner-operators were also shocked at the reported decrease in SFA 6 because DFO science had recorded an increase in the spawning stock there of just over 42% between 2020 and 2021.
All signs were pointing upwards to a stock increase, and while the stock in SFA 6 remains in the critical zone, DFO science says theres’ a 22% probability of actually being in the cautious zone.
While SFA 6 is in the critical zone, northern shrimp further north in SFAs 4 and 5 — which are fished by the offshore factory-freezer trawler fleet (which does their own science) — are both now in the healthy zone. In fact, DFO science reported "unprecedented" increases in SFA 4 stock between 2020-2021.
DFO research indicates that shrimp larvae mostly drift north to south due to strong currents, so with northern areas 4 and 5 in the healthy zone that should bode well for shrimp in SFA 6.
"We hope so," said Skanes, adding it's "worth considering."
She was also asked whether if all three shrimp fishing areas were combined the overall stock would be in the healthy, cautious, or critical zone, but she couldn't say.
As for SFA 7 off eastern/southern Newfoundland, she said DFO did not carry out a survey last year due to "several factors outside of DFO Science control including weather and vessel issues."
"We remain optimistic that the spring 2022 survey will cover the area such that new data is available for analyses, as it is useful for a lot of research here. Despite larval drift research, there have not been big changes to the SFA 7 Northern Shrimp stock in recent years."
Last year's quota in SFA 6 increased last year by 15% to 9,534 tonnes.
This year's quotas are expected to be unveiled in May when DFO's management plan is handed down.