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Message to DFO: mackerel fishermen want their fishing licenses back (moratorium or not)

Updated: Jan 24, 2023

Once again, that's the loud and clear message from fishermen upon learning that DFO will not allow them to renew their mackerel licenses on the department's online licensing system. DFO has repeatedly said the move is administrative in light of last year's mackerel moratorium, but owner-operators do not trust Fisheries and Oceans.

Ottawa slapped a moratorium on the Atlantic mackerel fishery in March 2022, but last fall the waters off Newfoundland's northeast coast were teaming with mackerel of various year classes — reflecting a strong stock, and yet another example of questionable DFO management.

SEA-NL is renewing the call we first made in April 2022 for DFO to continue issuing mackerel licenses to existing license holders in the inshore fleet — despite the fact the Canadian fishery is closed.

A mackerel license represents a major investment for an inshore enterprise in terms of gear and license. License holders want to know their mackerel licenses are safe, and there for them when the fishery reopens.

DFO has said the reason mackerel licenses are not included in the online licensing system is because there's a moratorium, and mackerel fees do not apply.

According to DFO, fishermen are not required to renew their mackerel licenses to maintain eligibility as long as the fishery remains closed for conservation reasons, “as provided by the current commercial fisheries licensing policy for eastern Canada.”

I'd want my license, too.

Dead mackerel (like these on the shores of Charleston, Bonavista Bay on Dec. 23rd) are still reportedly washing up on the northeast coast, but DFO says fishermen are not permitted to collect the dead fish for bait. Fishermen speculate the mackerel froze with a drop in water temperature.

In December SEA-NL called on DFO to lift the moratorium on Atlantic mackerel in 2023, and establish a quota at least equal to the United States.

Despite the Canadian moratorium on Atlantic mackerel, the U.S. continued to fish the same stock last year with a 4,963-tonne quota.

The American quota for 2023 has been set at 3,629 tonnes.

Federal DFO Minister Joyce Murray has yet to say whether the Canadian moratorium will be extended, but she has reportedly been trying to land a joint management agreement with the United States to manage the mackerel stock.

Formal talks between Canada and the U.S. are scheduled for February.

Closing the Atlantic mackerel further weakened already weak science by removing fishermen from the water.

But then shutting down the eastern Canadian mackerel fishery when U.S. fishermen continued fishing the same stock was ludicrous.

Just like telling fishermen not to collect dead/dying mackerel on the beach for bait.

Or preaching moratorium when the fish are everywhere.

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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