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Frustration to embarrassment to shame, patience lost with DFO science: SEA-NL

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Friday, Feb. 10, 2023 — Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SEA-NL) says continued cancellations and delays of critical assessments that survey the health of major fish stocks like northern cod have turned Fisheries and Oceans science into a Canadian shame.

DFO announced Thursday the Canadian Coast Guard science ship Alfred Needler (seen here in St. Johns this past November) has been decommissioned. The ship entered service in 1982 and has been plagued in recent years with mechanical issues.

“We’re past the point of frustration and embarrassment with DFO science; it’s now Canada’s shame,” says Ryan Cleary, SEA-NL’s Executive Director.

DFO’s science director for the province released a letter Thursday afternoon informing fishing industry representatives that the Canadian Coast Guard science ship Alfred Needler has been deemed “beyond repair” and decommissioned.

That’s only five months earlier than planned, but the impact on DFO’s science program is huge because the aging ship was needed to help bring two new science vessels into service.

That happens through comparative fishing, when an older vessel trawls alongside a new one — a critical step to calibrate differences between ships in trawl performance and ensure the continuity of DFO data.

“That continuity has been broken with the early loss of the Needler,” said Cleary. “DFO must clearly explain the consequences for its science program and future stock assessments.”

DFO also revealed Thursday there would be no 2023 assessment of northern cod for the second year (this is year 31 of the moratorium).

The shrimp stock off southern Labrador and northeastern Newfoundland, the stock primarily fished by the inshore fleet in shrimp fishing areas 5 and 6, also won’t be assessed this year.

Breakdowns, unplanned maintenance and refits on both new and old fisheries science vessels — on top of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic — have led to the cancellation of numerous stock assessments going back to 2020.

“Poor science translates into bad management, and that’s exactly where we are right now,” said Cleary.


Thursday e-mail from Dr. Atef A.H. Mansour

Regional Director, Science Newfoundland and Labrador Region

Good afternoon,

In the fall, we informed you that, given the condition of the older survey vessels, we were prioritizing comparative fishing activities which would impact our typical multi-species survey. I am writing to update you on the progress of the comparative fishing program and 2023 stock assessments.

First, however, I must inform you that, later today, the Canadian Coast Guard will announce the decommissioning of the CCGS Alfred Needler, the oldest of the four vessels involved in comparative fishing off Newfoundland and Labrador. We are currently assessing the implications and exploring how to best address them. We will share updates as they become available.

During the comparative fishing this past fall, 261 paired tows across NAFO Divisions 2HJ3KLNO were completed. This accounts for approximately 60 percent of our planned comparative fishing work in this area. This was a significant accomplishment.

We previously advised you that our focus on comparative fishing would have some impact on the 2023 stock assessment schedule. This is our current schedule:


  • Northern and Striped shrimp in Shrimp Fishing Area (SFA) 4 will be assessed.

  • Northern shrimp in SFAs 5 and 6 will not be assessed.

  • This year, the assessment for Northern Shrimp will take place in mid-March to allow more time to analyze all shellfish data. This change is not expected to affect the opening of the shrimp fishery.

Snow crab

  • The assessment will be held in late February 2023.

Northern cod

  • No assessment will take place in 2023.

As in previous years, resource management will engage with you through the established consultative process to seek input on management approaches for 2023.

I am committed to keeping you informed as we address these new challenges, but please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any additional questions.


Atef Mansour

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.

Reach me at Visit to join or register for the Feb. 25th AGM in Gander.

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