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Treading water: DFO's policy on fishing vessel length in NL remains different than the Maritimes

Updated: Oct 4, 2021

It took Fisheries and Oceans three days last week to clarify there are no changes to its fishing vessel-length policy in this province — and then the clarification was made on Twitter late Friday evening when few people were paying attention. The bottom line is the base length for an inshore fishing vessel remains at 39'11 in this province, and 44'11 in the Maritimes.

Described as a "floating bait box," this fishing boat on the Great Northern Peninsula was built 45 feet long, but was cut down to 39'11 to meet government regulations.

What's new is that DFO's Maritimes region has changed how its measures fishing vessels to allow for a five-foot stern extension, a policy that DFO's NL region apparently clarified/allowed for in this province in 2017.

Some owner-operators here took the change to mean the vessel length had increased to 44'11 from 39'11, which, again, isn't the case.

The confusion stopped at least one owner-operator in his tracks from cutting his 44 footer back to 39’11, and of course he still has to cut his boat.

That’s hard on the head for any owner-operator, and DFO needs to continue working on its communication skills.

The issue also once again raises the question of why there isn't a standard policy on fishing vessel length for all of Atlantic Canada?

There's a school of thought (the FFAW's) regarding vessel length that "bigger wants more" and increasing length will increase the appetite for more quota.

But then that argument makes little sense when you consider that most commercial fisheries are no longer competitive, but based on individual quotas (IQs). There are exceptions, of course, like the caplin and mackerel fisheries.

As well, while DFO regulates vessel length — the department doesn't regulate vessel width — and vessels that were built 16-feet wide in the early 1990s are being built up to 28-feet wide today.

Fishing vessels are being built wider than ever before like the Scotia Tradition in Branch on the Cape Shore that's 49-feet long by 26-feet wide.

Some new 39'11s can carry more fish than older 65 footers.

Some owner-operators take the stand that vessel length should be standardized across Atlantic Canada (to 44 feet 11 inches), and safety should be the primary consideration.

In fact, in June 2018 the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans carried out a study of fishing vessel length in Atlantic Canada — recommending a full review of DFO's NL policy, and consultation with enterprise owners.

The head of the committee at the time was Nova Scotia Liberal MP Bernadette Jordan, who went on to become federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.

The review was never carried out.

SEA-NL takes the stand that licensed, independent owner-operator fish harvesters should have the right to vote on key policy issues like standardized vessel length in the Atlantic region.


In Newfoundland and Labrador, the inshore fleet is divided into two sub-fleets: the less than 40 feet fleet (effectively, 39 feet 11 inches) and the less than 65-feet fleet (effectively, 64 feet 11 inches).

In 2015, 52% of fishing boats in Atlantic Canada were less than 35 feet in length, 41% were 35-44’11. The 65 feet and greater categories of vessels represented under 2% of vessels registered in Atlantic Canada. Find all the information here.

DFO’s policy regarding the leasing of fishing vessels also differs between provinces.

In Nova Scotia, a fisherman can lease his boat, and then is free 30 days later to use his vessel to fish other species. Meantime, a Newfoundland and Labrador fisherman must wait 12 months to do the same, while the waiting time on the Conne River reserve is one day.

Ryan Cleary,


Independent licensed owner-operators are encouraged to join SEA-NL here. These blog posts will be public for a limited time, before becoming exclusive to the membership.

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