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'FFAW quota' ain't what it was; cod quality program quietly ended in 2020; sentinel info DFO secret

Updated: Nov 2, 2022

Enterprise owners on the northeast coast used to refer to the union-run cod quality and sentinel fisheries together as the "FFAW cod quota" — reaching up to 469 tonnes (1 million/lbs) in 2016. But the cod quality program quietly ended in 2020, and DFO considers landings from this year's sentinel or science-based fisheries as top-secret info because the union sells the fish to fewer than five buyers. (Sure sounds like an FFAW quota.)

FFAW-Unifor photo

Under the cod quality program (which the FFAW ran between 2015-2020) dozens of fishermen were given 6,000 pounds (round weight) of extra cod a month for up to 12 months of the year — on top of their weekly limits under the commercial stewardship fishery.

Fishing continued under the cod quality program even when the stewardship fishery closed. (Which didn't go over well on many wharves.)

The FFAW dictated where the fish was sold, and was paid a share of the sale price.

The program was designed to improve quality and price, only the price didn't rise much.

The average landed price for cod this year is 65¢/lb — compared to 61¢/lb in 2015 when the cod quality program got off the ground. (Find those statistics at this DFO site.)

At 79¢/lb, cod heads are worth more. (Still getting my head around that.)

The union quietly ended the cod quality program in 2020 after landing 3.4 million pounds of fish.

DFO said the FFAW just stopped submitting proposals.

FFAW sentinel fishery photo from the 25th anniversary in 2019.


The FFAW began the sentinel or science-based test fisheries in the early 1990s after the fall of the commercial cod fisheries as a means for fishermen to keep their eyes on the water, and collect scientific data.

But the worth of the sentinel fisheries has been questioned since the resumption of the small-scale stewardship fishery.

Sentinel fisheries contracts have been worth well over $1 million a year to the FFAW, which also collects money from the sale of the fish.

Conflict of interest concerns have been raised about where the union sells its fish, the price per pound, and how the price is negotiated considering the FFAW’s role as bargaining agent for the inshore fleet, unionized plant workers where cod is processed, and workers aboard offshore trawlers that fish cod off the south coast.

DFO has refused to release the amount of cod caught in this year’s sentinel fisheries under a federal policy known as the the “rule of 5”, which states there must be a minimum of five enterprise owners and five buyers involved for catch information to be released.

While dozens of inshore enterprises take part in the sentinel cod fisheries every year, DFO says there are fewer than five buyers for sentinel-caught cod in 2022, the first year the department has refused to release the sentinel catch.

Real or perceived, the FFAW cod quota is yet another elephant on the wharf in terms of conflict of interest that most hands (ones in power specifically) ignore.

Right is right and wrong is wrong.

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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