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DFO's no-discard policy for herring in the Maritimes must be extended to Newfoundland and Labrador

That only makes sense as a way to eliminate altogether the discarding/dumping at sea of hundreds of thousands of pounds of herring as reported last week in waters around the province.

This is one of three pictures sent to SEA-NL last week of hundreds of thousands of pounds of herring released dead in waters around the province.


According to Corner Brook fisherman Sam Andersen, who fishes herring off Quebec and New Brunswick and was interviewed by The Broadcast last week, Fisheries and Oceans has a no-discard policy for herring caught in the Maritimes.


All herring caught by purse seiners there is landed at the wharf, where it’s sampled for size (the minimum length there is 18 cms), and if the average size is deemed to be above the small-fish tolerance of 25%, an extra amount is taken off the overall quota.


In other word, zero discards.


Here in NL when a seiner catches herring, samples must be taken at sea to measure for small-fish tolerance, and if more than 20% is found to be under the minimum size of 24.76 cm (6.76 cms longer than the Maritimes) the fish must be released.


Only owner-operators say the sampling process takes time, and often leads to the death of some of the herring whose scales are damaged by the seine.


More than 500,000/lbs of herring were estimated to have been released dead/dumped in three hauls alone last week in waters around the province.


Also last week, DFO changed the small-fish tolerance in one area of this province to 30% from 20% for the over 65 purse-sceine fleet in the Gulf (fishing zone 4R), but the policy could still lead to the discarding/dumping of herring.


A DFO official said Monday the minimum herring size is smaller in the Maritimes verses Newfoundland and Labrador because there are multiple herring stocks throughout Atlantic Canada.


"The minimum size for each stock is established with science based on size at maturity and can vary between stocks."


The official added, "During Departmental consultations with Industry over many years, Industry have repeatedly voiced that they can effectively sample sets for adherence to the small fish tolerance levels without causing significant mortalities."


That's often not the story here in NL waters.

This sounder image, captured by Twillingate fisherman Richard Gillett recently, shows small herring near the surface, and larger, more dense herring at the bottom, with the two schools meeting in the middle.


Twillingate fisherman Richard Gillett, who has fished herring for years in waters around the province, says he first "eyes" the herring in the water with his sounder and sonar.


Small herring tend to stay near the surface, and larger herring at the bottom.


Richard only shoots his seine when he believes the herring are near the minimum size, careful not to pull the seine tight until the herring is sampled for the size tolerance.


He said the problem is when most of the herring are within a half-inch of each other. His first sample could be under the small fish tolerance level of 20%, and the next sample over.


Over the course of the hour or so it may take to carry out three or four samples as much as a third of the herring in the seine may have died.


"If DFO managers think you can haul up fish and take scales off them, and not destroy some, they're more fools than I thought they were," Richard said. "There's no way you can entrap fish, rub them up against twine, and not take scales from them."


In the end, if 20% or more of the catch is deemed to be under the minimum size the catch must be released, and any dead herring sink to the bottom.


Richard said it "kills his soul" to see that happen.


DFO released a statement Monday to say that most harvesters are "conservation minded and sample their catch before drawing the seine up tightly, avoiding high mortality of released fish."


The statement went on to say, "If high mortalities of released fish are occurring, the Department may consider closure of this fishery for conservation reasons."


As Richard said, herring fishermen are not going to tell DFO they're discarding fish if it will close the fishery. "Who the Lord Jesus is going to tell them that?"


He said DFO's only management strategy is to "shut 'er down."


While DFO's no-discard policy for herring in the Maritimes is often referred to fishermen and DFO officials alike, SEA-NL has yet to find the written policy.


Regardless, it should extend to Newfoundland and Labrador immediately.


Ryan Cleary,

SEA-NL

Email: sea-nl@outlook.com


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