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SEA-NL formally asks DFO to outlaw bottom-trawling for 3Ps cod; offshore draggers take offence

SEA-NL made a written request earlier this month for the federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to ban the bottom-trawling of cod in fishing zone 3Ps off southern Newfoundland.

The 3Ps cod fishery was shut down in 1993, but reopened in 1997 with a quota of 10,000 tonnes. Since then the quota jumped to a high of 30,000 tonnes in 1999 to last year's low of 1,345 tonnes. Photo of Belleoram, Fortune Bay.

SEA-NL agreed the 2022 3Ps cod quota should remain at last year’s level (1,345 tonnes), the lowest since the 1993 moratorium, but went a step further to say bottom-trawling must end until the stock recovers.

The province has three adjacent cod stocks, each of which is deemed by DFO to be in the critical zone, meaning fishing must be kept to a minimum.

But while bottom-trawling for cod is banned for two of those stocks — northern cod off Labrador and eastern Newfoundland (fishing zones 2J3KL), and Gulf cod (4R,3Pn) — it's allowed to continue for 3Ps cod.

SEA-NL made the initial request for a ban on bottom-trawling for 3Ps cod during a January meeting of a committee DFO assembled to recommend this year’s quota for the stock.

The Atlantic Groundfish Council, representing the offshore dragger sector, later wrote their own letter to DFO to say that draggers weren’t banned from northern and Gulf Cod because of “concerns for conservation, but driven by other social and political factors.”

The council complained of being distracted by SEA-NL's “theatrics,” warning DFO that the respectful cod of conduct was “at risk of being violated”, and advising to think twice about inviting a SEA-NL representative to sit as an observer at future meetings.

So much for getting a permanent seat.

The ultimate decision on the 2022 3Ps cod quota (as with all NL/Canadian quotas) rests with the federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.

A decision is expected soon, possibly before Canada begins negotiations in March with the French islands of St. Pierre-Miquelon, which also have a share of the 3Ps cod quota.

Southern Harbour fisherman Peter Leonard has fished in 3Ps for 40 years.

Speaking of letters, Peter Leonard wrote one earlier this month to Premier Andrew Furey, and copied to the 39 other Members of the House of Assembly (MHAs) about the 3Ps cod fishery. It’s worth the read:

Premier Furey,

The KGB and Secret Service could not be as “undercover” as DFO, the FFAW, fish companies, and the federal/provincial governments are about the rebuilding plan for the 3PS cod fishery.

This rebuilding working group excludes the one group whose input should matter the most — the inshore harvesters of 3PS who fish the area.

In 1993, as I am sure you are very aware, there was a cod moratorium in 3PS. In 1997, an index fishery of 10,000 tonnes was put in place, with an agreement between DFO and the FFAW that no offshore dragging would take place until the total allowable catch (TAC) exceeded this 10,000 tonnes.

Shortly after the TAC increased to 20,000, and in 1999 to 30,000 tonnes. In 2022 the 3Ps cod quota is a mere 1,345 tonnes. Twelve per cent of that is allotted to offshore draggers, 15% is allotted to France, and there is even a percentage set aside as an overlap quota for fishermen from other fishing zones.

Now, you can guess what is left for the inshore harvesters of 3PS to catch. Yes, reread it again — it’s appalling!

On behalf of the inshore 3PS harvesters and myself, I’d like to offer my congratulations on such a successful and efficient rebuilding plan of the 3PS cod stock — note sarcasm! I’d also like to acknowledge the great work, from the same team, in destroying the 3PS cod fishery.

The powers that be are famous for using the same tactics and expecting something different. These people are in charge of rebuilding the 3PS cod stocks today remind me of a man standing in a bucket, and using the handle to try and lift himself. Mind boggling, isn’t it?

I have included a list of the people/organizations included in this working group to rebuild the 3PS cod stocks. You should be surprised to know that it’s missing one key group. The group excludes any over or under 40’ fleet inshore harvesters from Placentia and Fortune bays who fish the 3PS area.

They consult with everyone from heaven to hell, but not the one group who is hurting the most, but has generations of experience, knowledge, and the most to lose from the cod fishery not rebounding.

We need and deserve better.

My proposal to rebuild the 3PS cod fishery begins with the provincial government of NL, along with the Opposition, working together, and stop blaming Ottawa for everything that happens.

When it comes to the 3PS fishery, the provincial governments of the past have as much garbage in their backyard as Ottawa does. My God, if you can’t stand by the people supporting and electing you then why would any harvester or plant worker vote for any party?

In my opinion as a fish harvester, no MHA in government has the guts to take on DFO, the FFAW, and/or science and stand by inshore harvesters to make this right. When is history going to stop repeating itself?

Second, there must be absolutely no dragger bottom-trawling for cod in 3PS while the stock rebuilds. There is no bottom trawling for cod off Labrador and eastern Newfoundland (2J3KL), or the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Third, each inshore harvester should be able to hunt a minimum of 20 seals each, to use as they see fit, to help control the overpopulation of seals in the area. The number of seals since the 1993 moratorium has increased tenfold. This would be a start, as there is nothing to control their numbers now.

Fourth, there should be no cod fishing on the St. Pierre Bank or eastern and western Gullies when fish are congregating to spawn and are at their most vulnerable.

As a note: If you already are not aware, the mobile gear fleet only fishes when there is fish to catch. Fixed gear like gillnets and trawls only get catch when the species comes to the gear, resulting in very little bycatch. But bottom trawlers cause destruction to the ocean floor, and kill and catch everything.

The provincial government has stood by for 29 years, yes 29 years, as DFO, the FFAW, government scientists, and the large offshore companies destroyed the 3PS cod fishery — again!

I really can’t see how Premier Furey and his government, or Mr. Brazil and his Opposition are going to be any different.

The only difference I can see is with the open-pen fish farming, which we are led to believe will be our saviour.

It’s time for the provincial government to step up and do what they are elected to do. It’s time to take control over the failing “working groups” that are repeatedly destroying one the province’s oldest and most precious resources — the 3Ps cod stock.

Peter Leonard, Southern Harbour

Well said, Peter.

Ryan Cleary,


SEA-NL founding convention will be held virtually on Feb. 8th, 2021, and will be open to all owner-operator members in good standing. To join SEA-NL go here.

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