A recent survey by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) concluded that Northern cod stocks had increased by seven per cent between 2015-16, but the stock is still in the critical zone.
In a recent technical briefing for the media, DFO scientist Karen Dwyer said the current spawning biomass is at 300,000 tonnes.
It won’t be until the spawning biomass reaches 900,000 tonnes that Northern cod will leave the critical zone and land in the cautious zone, said Dwyer.
DFO warns that fishing should be kept to “the lowest possible levels.”
On the other hand, Hedderson, a fisherman with nearly 40 years of experience on the water, is in agreement with David Decker, secretary-treasurer for FFAW-Unifor, in wanting to see quota increases.
Following the release of the stock status report, Decker told the media communities need to transition from shellfish and Northern shrimp and rebuild a groundfish fishery.
“That includes gradually increasing our quotas, in line with the increase in stocks. So what’s very important right now is we take a certain amount of the gains we’re making and use it to rebuild an industry, and continue to rebuild these groundfish stocks,” he said.
Hedderson operates a 46-foot longliner with a crew of five. They fished cod last year, but also fished herring and capelin.
He believes quota increases in the inshore fishery would not jeopardize the cod stocks.
“I had a scientist from British Columbia out in boat with me a couple years ago,” he explains. “And he said ‘you’ll never hurt the cod stocks by fishing inshore.’ He said ‘there wasn’t even any need to shut down for small boats and the cod stocks would still rebuild.’”
However, Hedderson’s concern is that the federal government is waiting for the stocks to replenish to such an extent that there will be enough for the larger vessels to fish again. Therefore, he is concerned that history may repeat itself and this will lead to overfishing.
“Where the crab and shrimp stocks are going down, in my mind they wants to have the cod rebuilt that high so they can do the same as they did before,” says Hedderson. “Go back dragging and in a few years, not destroy it but put it at very low levels again, because they need a lot of fish to keep them bigger boats operating – not like inshore.”
On the other hand, he says, if the inshore quota was doubled from 3,000 pounds a week per enterprise to 6,000 pounds, he doesn’t believe that any small boat fisherman would ask for more than that.
According to Hedderson, small boats don’t need to catch much fish in order for the crew to make a decent income.
“So how’s that going to hurt any cod stocks?” he asks.
“A couple fellows fishing on a boat, with 6,000 pounds of cod, even though they might only get 70 cents (a pound for the catch), that’s a good week’s pay,” he explains. “And it’s better than ever they got since the moratorium.”
Hedderson also feels people, including the scientists, don’t realize how plentiful the Northern cod is. In fact, he expresses skepticism about the accuracy of surveys of cod stocks.
While the recent stock status report says the cod stocks are not back to where they were in the mid-1980s, Hedderson doubts this.
“You talk to anybody around here, or anywhere else, in the mid-80s you couldn’t get no fish inshore,” he says. “It was nothing like you see now.”
Hedderson was fishing back then and he knows in the early-1980s “you never heard tell of anyone getting 1,000 pounds a net.”
In recent years, he says, inshore fishers are able to get those kinds of catches.
“If you look at what’s being done in the sentinel and in the commercial fishery, there are times when no more fish can get in the net,” says Hedderson.
He believes that while surveys in the 1980s overestimated the amount of cod in the water, today they are underestimating the stocks.
“Nobody knows what’s in that ocean; there’s no way of knowing.”
With file from The Telegram