Members of the Prospect Area Full-Time Fishermen’s Association gathered at the entrance to the government wharf in West Dover, N.S. Wednesday evening to demand answers on what’s to become of the mackerel season.
The fishermen were prepared to set up a roadblock if they didn’t hear back from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans about why the season was halted.
While most commercial fisheries for Atlantic mackerel have not started for 2021, a number of fisheries in the Maritimes region are open year-round or opened on April 1.
Last Friday, however, the DFO issued a variation order to temporarily close the Maritimes region mackerel fishery.
About 72 fishermen and their crew from the Prospect area who fish and set traps in St. Maragaret’s Bay are affected by the closure. They say there is mackerel in the waters but they aren’t allowed to pull in their nets because they haven’t been given their quota.
“So everyone set their gear, anchors, weeks of work to get on the water to get the gear in the water, months of work on the land to get prepared and then all of a sudden we’re told there’s no quota,” said fisherman Scott Hubley.
According to the fishermen, the mackerel are moving east and if they can’t get an answer on the quota soon, they stand to lose a lot of money and investments made this year already.
“We have to get at our traps, which are still in the water. All the work’s been done with the traps,” said Burton Mitchell, a spokesperson with the fishermen’s association.
“We can’t go after the fish because it’s illegal for the buyers to buy the fish, so what are we going to do with them? We have to sell them.”
In a statement to Global News, DFO media relations spokesperson Barre Campbell said the 2021 stock assessment shows the stock is declining “further into the critical zone” and that the number of spawning fish is at the “lowest level ever observed.”
“Fishing is identified as a key driver of stock dynamics,” Campbell noted.
The fishermen say they understand the research has shown lower than ever stocks of mackerel — but they feel a modified fishing season can still go ahead.
“We do feel that there’s enough quota and the stocks are in good enough shape to sustain the fishery at this time,” said fisherman Derek Countway.
“If we don’t catch what we need now, it’s gone for us. It’s over.”
DFO is finalizing this year’s management plan for Atlantic mackerel and said “all options remain on the table.”
“At this time, the most prudent management choice is to cease any directed commercial fisheries for Atlantic mackerel until a management approach, including a total allowable catch, is determined,” Campbell wrote.
“The Department is aware of the planned protest, and will continue to maintain an open dialogue with industry on this issue.”