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DFO won't release catch data from sentinel cod surveys or landings from Labrador stewardship fishery

Fisheries and Oceans refuses to release landings from this year sentinel cod surveys in waters around the province for confidentiality reasons, even though the catches are supposedly for scientific purposes — not commercial. DFO also won't release landings from this year's stewardship fishery off Labrador in fishing zone 2J.

The small boat fleet in St. Bride's on the Cape Shore.

A spokeswoman for DFO in St. John's said the "DFO-industry sentinel survey catches do not meet Treasury Board privacy guidelines for public release."

Same goes for stewardship cod landings off Labrador, the spokeswoman said via e-mail.

(It took DFO officials in St. John's three weeks to provide that information.)

The Treasury Board guidelines referred to by DFO are thought to be the so-called rule of five, which means when there are fewer than five license holders fishing a particular stock, the department will not release the catch data to protect their privacy.

SEA-NL asked DFO officials last week to elaborate, but there's been no word since.


The FFAW-Unifor and DFO developed the sentinel cod surveys in the mid-1990s as a means to monitor the three cod stocks adjacent to the province (fishing zones 2J,3KL, 3Ps, and 4R/3Pn) after the collapse of the commercial fisheries.

The surveys involved dozens of inshore fishermen, and are administered by the union under annual contract to the federal government.

In 2017 the sentinel fishery contract in 2J3KL alone was worth more than $1.1 million to the FFAW, which also keeps the money from the sale of the fish.

The union points out on its website that the FFAW "does not own a cod quota" in regards to sentinel fisheries.

So what's the issue with releasing the catch data, which until this year has always been released?

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

Enterprise owners have questioned the purpose of continued sentinel fisheries with the resumption of the small-scale stewardship fishery.


DFO set the 2022 maximum sustainable harvest for the northern cod stewardship fishery at 12,999 tonnes — with 2,600 tonnes (20%) reserved specifically for enterprise owners who fish in 2J because of the "unique challenges" faced by enterprise owners there.

While DFO won't release the catch data specific to 2J, as of today 12,179 tonnes have been taken, leaving 820 tonnes in the water.

The stewardship cod fishery off Labrador is set to close Oct. 15th, but enterprise owners have asked for an extension to catch the remaining fish.

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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