When it comes to hunting fish with mobile gear or fixed-gear modified tuck seines, some inshore skippers say the most skilled fishing is for herring, but with an average wharf price of 18¢/lb, there's no big money in it without big volume.
Just over 35 million pounds of herring have been landed this year in Newfoundland and Labrador waters, worth a landed value of $6.2 million, and average landed price of 17.6¢/lb (DFO figures). Prior to the pandemic in 2019 the herring fishery landed 49 million pounds, with a landed value of $11 million, and landed price of 22¢/lb. The herring price is a "floating" one, meaning it's negotiated between harvester and processor.
During a herring advisory meeting last week 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).
The minimum herring length in the Maritimes is 18 cm — 6.76 cm shorter than this province.
DFO officials won't say how much lower, but the news is well received by the inshore fleet, which has argued for years that the herring off the province's east/south coasts are becoming sexually mature at a smaller size.
Enterprise owners describe the Gander meeting as the most positive in years.
That's a refreshing change, let me tell you.
BIG PROBLEMS WITH DISCARDS
There have been big problems with discards in the east coast herring fishery.
Herring on the east coast must be sampled for minimum size before the fish is landed, and the sampling procedures often leads to dead fish.
This picture was one of a series sent to SEA-NL in November, 2021 showing hundreds of thousands of pounds of herring dumped in waters around the province as a result of the sampling procedure.
SEA-NL wrote about it here: Hundreds of thousands of pounds of herring dumped last week due to backward DFO policy: SEA-NL
In the meantime, herring caught in the purse seine fishery in DFO's Gulf Region (which covers the southern Gulf, and Bay of Fundy) 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 includes the application of a conversion factor when more than 10% of small fish is landed.
The conversation factor is predetermined and is applied based on the percentage of small fish to adjust overall landings.
It's expected the small-fish protocol will be extended to cover the entire Gulf within the next few years — reducing discards to zero.
During the advisory meeting in Gander, DFO officials said a small-fish protocol can not be implemented on Newfoundland Labrador's east coast until the department has an estimate the total herring biomass, which may take a couple of more years.
Until then, DFO raised the idea of implementing "best practices" in the herring fishery.
Two points: DFO should have total biomass estimates years ago for all pelagic species including herring, mackerel and capelin — and the fact that it does not shows the department's science program is not cutting it.
Settling for "best practices" to reduce discards is not good enough.
SEA-NL takes the stand that any DFO policy that allows for the dumping of fish is a backward policy that must end immediately.
Or, in this case, years ago.
This province must demand/insist on better fisheries management, and never take no as an answer.
At the same time, good news is always welcome — even in baby steps.
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.