BONAVISTA, N.L. — Dennis Miller of Burgoyne’s Cove is a typical inshore fisherman.
Fishing up to 50 miles from shore in a 39-ft 11-inch boat, he makes his living from groundfish, capelin, herring, mackerel, lobster and snow crab.
For the past several years, crab has been the mainstay for most fishing enterprises.
However, these days Miller thinks a lot about the future of groundfish, particularly cod and turbot, and how it will affect his enterprise.
He wonders if the Department of Fisheries and Oceans will give smaller boats, like his, access to turbot by opening up fishing zones closer to shore.
“I have fished (turbot in) that (inshore) zone before in that same boat, but they only had it open for four or five years and then they closed it,” said Miller.
The current fishing zones for turbot are “too far for me to go in that boat now,” he said.
He also wonders if he’ll be allowed a turbot bycatch, and how much, when he’s fishing other species.
Currently, fishers are allowed a maximum of five percent turbot bycatch while fishing cod, for instance. If the bycatch exceeds that level, both fisheries can be closed.
And he wonders if when he’s fishing turbot, whether he’ll be allowed cod bycatch.
He brought those questions to a meeting with DFO in Bonavista on Monday, Jan. 22.
He was one of about 30 fishers who showed up for the meeting.
The event at the local Lions Club, was the fifth in a series of outreach meetings which included St. Anthony, Baie Verte, Twillingate and Hare Bay.
Other meetings are scheduled for Fogo Island, Shearstown, the Southern Shore and the south coast of Labrador.
Led by DFO area director Ron Burton, the meeting also included other resource management personnel from the department to answer questions from fishers, and note their concerns and comments.
Burton told The Packet he was pleased with the results of the meetings so far, saying they’ve been productive.
He added the topic of “buddy up” was also a common one among the meetings they’ve held so far.
Currently enterprises are permitted to buddy up in the crab fishery. Many fishers feel the same system should be permitted in other fisheries.
Burton says many fishers say this system is more economical; helping reduce expenses when two enterprises “buddy up” to fish two individual quotas using one boat.
However representatives from FFAW warn the buddy-up system, if allowed in the cod fishery for instance, could lead to a decrease in the weekly catch limit for cod for each enterprise.
“The bottom line is, the more people that gets into it, the smaller the weekly limits are going to be … and it’s going to affect someone’s bottom line,” said John Boland, staff representative for the FFAW.
“If anyone thinks they’re going to get the same amount of fish with more participation — there’s cause and effect,” he warned.
As for Miller, he says he’s encouraged that DFO will look at the issue regarding fishing zones, and says he’ll continue to raise his concerns with the department.
“They’re looking at it, which is a (good) sign … And I’ll bring it up at the next meeting and the next one.”
On the topic of turbot, other fishers in the room asked if that fishery could be opened earlier.
Burton says some suggested early June or July, and DFO is also considering setting an opening date and leaving it open for harvesters to fill their quotas.
Many of the fishers at Bonavista also had questions about the future of the cod fishery, saying bigger quotas are needed to make it commercially feasible. One suggestion was to move to a monthly quota instead of weekly limits.
Many of the fishermen complained that fish plants cannot meet the demand when they offload and longer, more spread out quotas could help alleviate this.
“That’s a very unfortunate situation,” said Burton. “The industry is growing and the capacity of the harvesting is growing faster than the capacity of the processing and that’s not an easy thing to solve.
“We’ve got to convince people to invest in the processing sector to keep up with the harvesting.”
Other topics raised at the Bonavista meeting included: designating a hook-and-line zone free of gillnets, the small size of capelin, possibly bringing a fall crab test fishery to the Bonavista Bay area, and opening the flounder fishery.
FFAW takes shots at FISH-NL at DFO meeting
BONAVISTA, NL — With FISH-NL and the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) in the same room, there was bound to be an argument.
The two groups have been trading barbs for more than a year now, as FISH-NL continues to challenge the leadership of the FFAW and try to form a break-away union solely for fishers.
At Bonavista on Monday, Jan. 22, for a meeting of fishers with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), the two sides squared off again.
The exchange grew heated when the discussion shifted to encouraging new entrants into the fishery.
Fishers are unable to earn more than 25 per cent of their income outside the fishery during the season. Some argued this discourages young people or others who work in other areas to supplement their income and make a future in the fishery more attractive.
The FFAW say changing that rule is a slippery slope, because it was put in place to professionalize the industry so that not everyone could step into the fishery, dilute the market and quotas.
“If (it’s changed and) anyone who wants to fish can go into DFO and pay $30 to go at it, if that’s what people want — the enterprise you have that’s worth thousands of dollars, you want that made useless?” said John Boland, staff representative for the FFAW.
Ryan Cleary of FISH-NL tried to weigh in on the topic, speaking about how there are very few young faces in the room and they need to do something to change that.
He questioned whether the relationship between the Professional Fish Harvesters Certification Board and the FFAW, which jointly own the same building, have rules that work against people who want to enter the fishery.
Dwan Street, project coordinator for the FFAW, then took a verbal shot at Cleary, saying, divisiveness and conspiracy theories will not do anything to address the problems that need to be discussed and solved.
She says what Cleary doesn’t know about the fishery, “could fill a library.”
“Every man in this room has been trying to fix this and we’ve been trying to fix this. There is no easy answer. You can’t suck and blow at the same time,” Street yelled at Cleary.
“It's like when we sit down and look crab going down and cod going up and it doesn't meet in the middle. How do we f--king fix it? And Open Line is not going to fix it and Facebook is not going to fix it … Do you know what’s not going to build (the industry)? People like you walking in and figuring you can be the salvation and figure out how to fix it! Buddy, if this industry was as easy as you think it is, we’d all be coasting along best kind!” she shouted.
The heated exchange prompted Ron Burton to step in to break up the tension, saying, in order for DFO to listen to the views and opinions of the people in attendance everyone needs to be respectful of one another and their opinions or comments.
This article was updated with further information after initial publication.
It was also corrected to more accurately reflect a statement made at the meeting.