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Weekly catch limits, trip limits, fishing schedules, and scarce few buyers: cod fishery in nutshell

The northern cod fishery off Newfoundland and Labrador’s east coast is in full swing, but trip limits and fishing schedules are hamstringing the inshore fleet as the few processors who are buying slow down landings to handle catches. That’s if you can find a buyer, of course, which once again screams of the need for more competition, and outside buyers.

To date this year, roughly 21% or 2,778 tonnes of the 12,999-tonne northern cod quota has been landed off eastern NL. Off the south coast, 147 tonnes (47%) of the 312-tonne quota has been taken in Placentia Bay, with 111 tonnes (41%) of the 270-tonne quota landed in Fortune Bay. DFO recently declared a moratorium on cod in the northern Gulf.

If DFO’s weekly catch limits weren’t bad enough, processors also assign boats trip limits (2,000 pounds for a small boat, for example), and fishing schedules whereby they will only buy from certain boats on certain days. More trips equals much higher expenses to the small-boat fleet.

Trip limits and fishing schedules are allowed under the FFAW’s weak master collective agreement with processors, even though such measures (including DFO’s weekly limits) can pressure owner-operators to fish in less than ideal conditions — increasing the risks of already dangerous work.

But so what, it seems.

Two enterprise owners (brothers) in Notre Dame Bay — who have up to 11,550 pounds of cod to catch a week between them with three licences — can only land 6,000 pounds or just over 50% of their quota a week.

They say that's the most the Barry Group will buy from them because its plant is backed up, and the only other buyer in the area, Ocean Choice International, won’t buy from them at all because they don’t sell the company their snow crab.


The brothers say OCI only buys from their own fishermen, or those who also sell the company their snow crab.

As a result they're losing thousands of dollars a week.

“My son, if you could pick a number between 1 and 10 my level of frustration is a 20. The companies in this province have a monopoly on what’s going on in this fishery, and it should never be.”

The fall price of cod varies: Grade A, $1.05/lb; Grade B, 40¢/lb; and Grade C, 20¢/lb. According to DFO, last year cod averaged 64¢/lb to the inshore fleet. SEA-NL wrote about it here: Cod 'becoming new salmon' in Norway, but at 64¢/lb it's far from King in Newfoundland


The problem with the A/B/C grading system is that codfish isn't graded at the wharf when the fish is landed, but later when it arrives at the plant.

Some fishermen say the few cents a pound it would cost to have fish graded at the wharf would make up for what they loose by having the cod graded sometimes hours or days later at the plant.

While enterprise owners have changed how they fish cod to dramatically increase the quality of product, a garbage grading system ends costing them.

According to DFO, 1,672 enterprises are licensed to fish groundfish such as northern cod, and last year 1,259 of those were active (including 74 in Labrador).

This year there was a change in the northern cod management plan in that 2,600 tonnes or 20% of the 12,999 tonnes were allocated specifically to Labrador.

While the provincial government has ordered a review of the collective bargaining model that sets fish prices to the inshore fleet, the province must also investigate competition in the processing sector.

Price is one issue, but it's irrelevant if there's no buyer.

Ryan Cleary,

Executive Director, SEA-NL

To read more about SEA-NL, or to join the non-profit organization please visit

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