Generations of West Dover, Nova Scotia, fishing families eagerly awaited the arrival of one of its fishing crews bringing home their first Atlantic mackerel catch of the season.
“Mackerel is a big part of our living around this coast and always has been,” Darrell Countway said, a fisherman and member of the Prospect Area Full-Time Fishermen’s Association. “Mackerel has been fished here for hundreds of years. St. Margarets Bay’s coast is one of the biggest coasts along the shoreline for mackerel.”
Countway is one of the dozens of fishermen who were ready to set up a roadblock if the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) further delayed their season.
“It would have been three, four months’ worth of work for no pay,” Countway said.
DFO eventually set the quota at a 50 per cent reduction from last season at a 4,000-tonne total allowable catch for the fisheries in Atlantic Canada and Quebec.
The delay is connected to DFO data showing Atlantic mackerel stock is at a historic low.
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“To have the best chance at recovery there should have been less quota allowed or even no quota, but it is a positive step in that this allows more than a 60 per cent probability of growth,” Katie Schleit said, Oceans North’s senior fisheries advisor.
Oceans North is a non-government organization that works in marine conversation in Atlantic Canada and the Arctic.
Schleit says overfishing needs to be significantly curbed in order for the stock to have any chance of replenishing.
“Since 2011, scientists have been showing that really we needed low to no harvest to allow this population to rebuild. And DFO has been allowing harvest at levels that’s been continuing to lead to declines,” she said.
Mackerel stock contributes to a significant economic benefit. According to DFO, the land value of the 2018 stock was $10.7 million.
For generations of fishermen like Countway, this species is crucial to feeding their families and supplying the larger commercial fishing market with essential bait.
“If there’s no mackerel there’s no bait. There’s no crab fishing, there’s no halibut fishing. So mackerel means a lot to everyone up and down the coast,” he said.
Schleit says Oceans North is calling on the federal government to invest in supporting alternatives to traditional bait used in commercial fishing.
“The ones that seem to have the most popularity are ones that still use fish but they’ll use fish parts. So things like guts and heads and tails that normally might go to waste,” she said.
Countway and his crew didn’t waste time ruminating over the quota reduction. In their industry, time is money, and their preparation puts them in a position to start hauling in their nets as soon as Atlantic mackerel migrate towards their Prospect-area waters.
“As long as everybody gets their share, everybody will go on making a small living like we need to,” he said.