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Mackerel wash ashore in Virgin Arm as DFO defends decision (again) not to renew commercial licenses

Inshore enterprise owners have once again been denied the right to renew their commercial fishing licenses for mackerel, and while DFO says the move is strictly administrative in light of this year's moratorium, owner-operators are not convinced. The issue comes down to trust: there is none.

Thousands of mackerel washed ashore earlier this week in Virgin Arm. Enterprise owners around the province report that mackerel were incredibly plentiful this year, raising frustration levels with DFO given the feds slapped a moratorium on the Atlantic Canada fishery in March, even as the U.S. continues fishing the same stock.

After DFO shut down the Atlantic mackerel fishery In March, officials said that fishermen were no longer required to renew their commercial licenses "due to the conservation closure."

The department then stopped posting mackerel licenses for renewal on its National Online Licensing System (NOLS), which got an immediate reaction from fishermen like Boyd Lavers of Port Saunders.

Boyd said straight up he doesn't trust DFO, and insisted on continuing to pay his $104 annual mackerel license fee even though the fishery is closed, so that he knows his license will be there for him once the moratorium is lifted.

In April, SEA-NL also called on Fisheries and Oceans to continue issuing mackerel licenses to existing license holders.

Enterprise owners immediately raised the alarm again because mackerel licenses were not included.

Said one skipper: "Just because DFO decides to not open the fishery this year doesn't warrant stripping the license from a fisherman's portfolio. Fisherman can't fish it anyway, so what's the big deal with leaving the license in place? I can't help but feel that something bad is brewing with all this."

In response, DFO said the reason enterprise owners do not see mackerel licenses in NOLS "is related to the fact it is a payment system", and mackerel fees do not apply.

Again — the trust just isn't there.

It didn't help that Canada's decision to close the Atlantic mackerel fishery this year made zero sense when the United States continued fishing the same stock.

Another shot of dead mackerel in Virgin Arm this week.

U.S. fishermen had a quota of almost 5,000 tonnes of Atlantic mackerel this year, with 3,629 tonnes set aside for them in 2023

DFO Minister Joyce Murray has reportedly been trying to land a joint management agreement with the United States to manage the mackerel stock, but has yet to get anywhere with it.

To repeat myself, DFO's decision to slap a moratorium on the Canadian mackerel fishery while the U.S. fleet continues to fish — combined with relatively weak DFO science, and then even less data without mackerel fishermen on the water — was wrong from the get-go.

SEA-NL is calling on Ottawa to lift the mackerel moratorium for 2023, and establish a quota at least equal to the U.S.

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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