Mackerel and no data

A few months ago in Gaspé, Camille Gagnier was juggling two careers: fishing, her passion, and recycling-marketing-restoration. At the end of 2021, she decides to devote herself exclusively to fishing. She is investing about a quarter of a million dollars to repair her boat and buy new mackerel fishing equipment. It is through social networks that she learns about the closure of fishing: It is obvious that this year, unfortunately, will be unprofitable for the company.

Camille Gagnier is the captain of Cap Barré, the only boat anchored at Anse-à-Valleau marina.

Photo: Radio Canada / Jean-Francois Brassard

Like several of his colleagues, the relief captain was surprised by this last-minute ban. Fishermen have heard about dwindling stocks for years, but not enough to imagine that it would necessitate the closure of the fishery.

Quotas have already been reduced

There are two types of commercial mackerel fishing in Canada: commercial fishing for processing, food, and especially to provide bait for the country’s most profitable fisheries, such as crab and lobster fishing. Because, unlike some countries in Europe and Asia, mackerel is not part of the Canadian eating habit.

At the same time, there is so-called fishing on the baitwhen mackerel is caught directly by those who need it as bait for lobster, crab or tuna.

The quota for this fishery is shared between all the Atlantic provinces and Quebec.

In 2019, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has already reduced the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) by 20% from 10,000 tonnes to 8,000 tonnes. Thanks to the recommendations of scientists, the department also increased the minimum size of fish to be caught to give the stock an opportunity to reproduce.

In 2021 TAC was halved to 4,000 tons. That year, the ministry also set catch limits for recreational fisheries, the first since 1985.

But these measures have not been enough to improve stocks, as Adam Burns, Assistant Deputy Minister of Fisheries and Ports Management at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, explains: Unfortunately, it didn’t stop there [la diminution des stocks]. Therefore, this year we stopped commercial fishing, as well as bait fishing.

No landing data

Under the guise of a recreational fishery, the department writes in its Atlantic Mackerel Recovery Plan (New window)whatlivres de maquereau en une journée sans être tenu de le déclarer. […] Il existe un risque que la pêche commerciale du maquereau se poursuive, après sa fermeture, sous le couvert de la pêche récréative”,”text”:”il n’est pas rare que certains navires de plaisance débarquent plus de 500livres de maquereau en une journée sans être tenu de le déclarer. […] Il existe un risque que la pêche commerciale du maquereau se poursuive, après sa fermeture, sous le couvert de la pêche récréative”}}”>It is not uncommon for some recreational vessels to land over 500 pounds of mackerel in a day without reporting it. […] There is a risk of continued commercial mackerel fishing after its closure under the guise of amateur fishing.

In order to limit the pressure on the resource, in May 2021 the ministry imposes (New window) limit of 20 mackerel per person per day. But there is no catch reporting mechanism. Only fisheries officers on the piers can catch violators red-handed, as happened in Grand Valle, in the Gaspé, last summer.

In other words, the amount of mackerel caught by recreational fisheries remains a gray area. And this is not the only one.

Scientist Dominique Robert, a professor at the Institute of Marine Sciences of the University of Quebec in Rimouski, notes that bait fishing […] not systematically monitored in all regions of Atlantic Canada. So there’s a part of what’s taken as bait that we don’t know about. This is not very helpful in estimating resource pressure.

A lobster boat passing through a school of mackerel, for example, has every right to catch several hundred pounds and immediately use all or part of it. That way, this mackerel won’t get past the wharf where inspection might be possible.

If DFO After decades of acknowledging that mackerel landings are largely underreported, stakeholders have identified another problem in the gap between catch reporting standards.

Gray area in catch reports

Despite federal fisheries management, catch monitoring and reporting regulations vary from province to province. Some anglers must call before returning to the dock to report their catch, others are observed aboard a spotter boat at sea while fishing. However, Quebec, for example, has no dock monitoring requirements, while most of Newfoundland’s fleet does.

On the other hand, in Quebec and Newfoundland, fishermen fill out a logbook. But that’s not the case in Prince Edward Island and parts of New Brunswick. As Ghislaine Collin, president of the Regroupement des pelagic fishermen of Southern Gaspésie, explained, they declare the catch they have in their factory. But the fisherman who docked at the wharf and then took his fish home is his.

Ghislaine Collin, lobsterman and president of the Southern Gaspé Pelagic Fishermen's Association.

Ghislaine Collin, lobsterman and president of the Southern Gaspé Pelagic Fishermen’s Association

Photo: Radio Canada / Jean-Francois Brassard

Mr. Collin finds it difficult to understand why all fishermen are not subject to the same rules for declaring their catches, even though the department’s scientists had already recommended it more than 20 years ago (New window), mandatory log book [pour] all anglers, including bait anglers.

These differences create misunderstanding, even tension between fishermen.

According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, these provincial differences are historic. But he’s announcing it through media relationsist Karian CharronMPO évaluera les risques et les exigences de gestion de la pêche au maquereau de l’Atlantique, examinera l’efficacité du programme actuel de surveillance et de production de rapports sur les pêches, et apportera les changements nécessaires pour appuyer les pratiques de pêche durables”,”text”:”en collaboration avec les participants aux pêches, le MPO évaluera les risques et les exigences de gestion de la pêche au maquereau de l’Atlantique, examinera l’efficacité du programme actuel de surveillance et de production de rapports sur les pêches, et apportera les changements nécessaires pour appuyer les pratiques de pêche durables”}}”>in cooperation with fishing participants DFO assess the risks and management requirements of the Atlantic mackerel fishery, review the effectiveness of the current fishery monitoring and reporting program, and make necessary changes to support sustainable fishing practices.

However, Ghislaine Collin claims that he has already raised this question with the ministry, but without an answer. His Pelagic Fishermen’s Association was not invited to the last annual Mackerel Advisory Committee organized by DFO. Other commercial fishermen’s associations also regret not having been consulted, such as the Gaspésie Owner-Captains Association, the Marine Fishermen’s Union or the Coalition of Atlantic and Quebec Fishing Organizations.

Different fishing techniques, different loads on the resource

The main reason for the decline of mackerel is overfishing. Many fishermen believe that the management of this fishery should be more fair and sustainable for this resource.

Captain Camille Gagnier explains that at the height of the fishing season in Quebec, commercial fishermen are allowed to fish with 200 hooks on the line. This is a technique that is also appreciated by the laureate fisherman Lelievre for its efficiency and less pressure on the resource.

This enthusiast has been catching lobsters for a long time. He hoped to spend his last years at sea catching only mackerel. He, too, was surprised by this last-minute closure. He is convinced, like Camille Gagnier and many fishermen and scientists, that well-controlled fisheries will protect resources in the long term.

Lelièvre winner, Fish captain and Gaspé fisherman for over 45 years.

Lelièvre winner, Fish captain and Gaspé fisherman for over 45 years. Shows one of the hooks of his fishing line, collected by his own hands during the winter.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Carine Monat

Hook and line fishermen have the same quota as much larger vessels, mostly based in Newfoundland, that fish with seines, a type of large floating circular net. A seiner can catch up to 300 tons of mackerel in one night. Three hundred tons per night, that’s three years of my fishingsaid Mr. Lelievre angrily. And in the net, how do you want to respect the size of the little kids you have to put back in the water? They are already dead.

The consequences of the closure of the mackerel fishery are also felt by some crab and lobster fishermen, who have had to bring their bait at high prices from abroad, from Spain, Iceland or the United States, with whom we share the same stocks. Deputy Minister Adam Burns, for his part, assures that he really wants to help lobster and crab fishermen no longer depend on mackerel. For several years, the department has been working with industry and provincial governments to find alternative baits. But for now, there are no plans to compensate the mackerel fishermen.

Restoration of mackerel

The future recovery of the mackerel population and its fishery is uncertain. The department is awaiting the results of the next stock assessment, which will be released in the winter, before making a decision on the next commercial fishing season. But according to scientist Dominic Robert, in addition to overfishing and predation on gray seals and bluefin tuna, larval survival rates have been low for years.

Normally, most of the larvae die in fish. For mackerel, the researcher indicates % de mortalité […] Puis, il y a certaines années où la mortalité est moins forte. On assiste alors à un fort recrutement, donc beaucoup de jeunes poissons vont aller rejoindre le stock adulte et le renforcer”,”text”:”qu’on parle de plus de 99% de mortalité […] Puis, il y a certaines années où la mortalité est moins forte. On assiste alors à un fort recrutement, donc beaucoup de jeunes poissons vont aller rejoindre le stock adulte et le renforcer”}}”>that we are talking about over 99% mortality […] Then there are certain years when mortality is lower. Then there is a strong replenishment, so many young fish will join the adult stock and strengthen it.he says.

But it takes three to four years before mackerel reach reproductive size and become available for commercial fishing. In other words, the current one-year fishing ban will not have an immediate effect, even if that year was good for attracting mackerel, explains Dominique Robert. You must be patient. […] It’s about getting a good year and you could see a recovery in three or four years at that time.

Camille Gagnier also remains hopeful. For her, uncertainty is the essence of fishing. As for Lauréat Lelièvre, he admits that if he had a second life, he would still be a fisherman. We have everything on the water. Every day is something new.

The program includes a report by Karin Mon and Luc Rheom green week Saturday 22 October at 5pm and Sunday 23 October at 12.30pm on ICI TÉLÉ and 8pm on ICI RDI.

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