ROBERT’S ARM, N.L. - Brad Rideout hauled the 55-foot Fishermen’s Dream away from his Robert’s Arm wharf the evening of Oct. 17.
He was one of a few fishermen to take part in a peaceful protest over mackerel.
The fishery is an important part of northeast-coast operators’ livelihoods during the fall. By the Green Bay South fishermen’s estimation, it can make up 50 per cent or more of their annual income, depending on how the season plays out.
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While the mackerel fishery closed Oct. 10 after the 10,000 tonnes total allowable catch (TAC) for the Atlantic region was landed, the fisherman of 35 years says there’s more than enough of the species left in the water to extend the season.
After the commercial fishery was closed, he said, the Maritimes’ – Nova Scotia, PEI, and New Brunswick – was opened to a handline bait fishery, up to 1,000 pounds per day, per licence.
“Whether it’s for food or bait, it’s still coming out of the water as a mackerel,” Rideout said, adding if the option was afforded to the Maritimes, it should also be given to Newfoundland and Labrador harvesters.
“We were satisfied to stay tied on if it meant it was closed for everybody else,” he said. “But if (other parts of the Maritimes) get more, than we want more.”
Furthermore, Rideout explained, more than a third of the of the TAC – 3,500 tonnes of the 10,000-tonne quota – was landed before Newfoundland and Labrador fishermen even had a chance to partake in the fishery.
As he normally does when chasing mackerel, Rideout’s strategy was to head out of the bay, steaming south towards Triton – approximately 15 kilometres away – hugging the shoreline. The search didn’t take long. Just over 100 feet from his wharf, in eight fathoms of water, the sounder and the sonar began lighting up. He had found the mackerel in the middle of the harbour.
“That just shows you how far we have to go,” he said, referring to the abundance of the species, while shaking his head. “All this fish and you’re not allowed to catch it.”
With his lights on, drawing the fish to his vessel, Rideout started the process of moving into position, ready for his partner in another vessel to accompany him. Rideout estimated there was 200,000 pounds of fish. Just kilometres away, another protest fisherman has a reading of more than 300,000 pounds. Between the two boats, there was more than half-a-million pounds of mackerel up for grabs, but Rideout changed his mind.
What they were doing is deemed illegal, as it’s out of season.
The use of lights had held the attention of the species for several hours, but after seeking advice from FISH-NL, Rideout decided against catching the mackerel.
Illegally obtaining the fish would likely result of the confiscation and charges. He felt it was counterproductive to the message area fishermen were trying to convey.
Rideout doesn’t feel an extended fishery would be harmful to the stock’s health, as there’s an abundance, as highlighted by what the two boats have been able to lure in.
“Whether it’s for food or bait, it’s still coming out of the water as a mackerel.”
- Brad Rideout, fisherman
And with a Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) plane in the air, at least two government boats on the water monitoring, and fisheries officers on shore, Rideout said they had made their point.
“They’ve wasted a good many taxpayer dollars today,” he said. “So, we’ve got somebody’s attention with what we are doing.”
He is hoping the demonstration can help create dialogue between fishermen, DFO and the union – FFAW–Unifor.
Monitoring the situation
Because of the Central Voice’s publication deadlines, DFO responded prior to the demonstration Oct. 17.
An emailed statement indicated the fishery was closed because the 10,000-tonne TAC was reached, and that the closure was done in the name of conservation. It confirmed the bait fishery remained open in all areas of Atlantic Canada and Quebec.
“Any landings must be reported, and are for personal use only for bait in ongoing fisheries. They cannot be sold,” read the statement.
The department recognized a potential protest might happen in Newfoundland and Labrador, and that any retention of the species out of season would be deemed illegal.
“We respect the right of people to peacefully voice their opinions,” read the statement. “However, we are closely monitoring the situation and remind people it is imperative that they respect the law.”
Union calls for change
After Rideout and area fishermen declared their intentions, Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) shared a message of solidarity. The union, which represents the province’s fishermen, also called on DFO to reconsider the mackerel fishery.
“FFAW members are justified in their frustrations at being shut out of a fishery that is showing many signs of being healthy and abundant,” FFAW-Unifor president, Keith Sullivan, said in the press release. “Moreover, many removals are not being recorded, especially in the Maritime region. This is simply unacceptable.”
“They’ve wasted a good many taxpayer dollars today. So, we’ve got somebody’s attention with what we are doing.”
- Brad Rideout, fisherman
They also reiterated the message that the TAC was set unacceptably low and that harvester observations from the past have been ignored.
“DFO has not done the appropriate work needed to both accurately estimate the mackerel biomass and calculate commercial and recreational removals. Consequently, our members are being shortchanged the opportunity to harvest at reasonable levels,” Sullivan added.
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