Restarting the cod fishery

Published on September 14, 2015

The primary methodology for managing fish harvesting in Canada today is through the allocation of quotas.

There are significant aspects to quota-based management which poses major risks to stock sustainability, reduces the profit to the economy and creates excessive monitoring and regulation. I am advocating for increased use of effort-based management. This method has been used successfully for over 90 years in lobster harvesting and could be a model for other fisheries. Lobster harvesting is managed without the application of quotas. Instead, it manages the effort that is applied to the stock. This lobster model provides realtime monitoring of the harvesting rate which will allow the industry to adjust the effort to ensure sustainability. The lobster model would also produce greater profitability from the existing harvest.
The cod fishery prior to the 1950s was essentially an effort-based managed system, controlled, not by man made rules, but by natural forces and gear simplicity. This changed radically in the 1950s with modern, powerful draggers and increasingly sophisticated fish-finding equipment. Our response was to implement quota management systems in all of our fisheries except lobster.
Quota-based management will almost always get the optimal total allowable catch wrong. It will catch too little when the stock is strong and catch too much when the stock is declining. The collapse of crab in 3Ps this year is an example of the latter.
Quota-based management has a number of serious flaws which I will elaborate on in future, but they include bad assumptions about the health of the stock, destruction of the spawning biomass, over-capitalization, lower harvesting efficiency, lower profits, excessive rules with concurrent increased monitoring and enforcement costs.
The principle of managing by effort provides an excellent method of restarting the cod fishery. Let me suggest a plan: allow each fisher to use 1,000 hooks per day for a period of eight weeks. This would be only a small fraction of the effort used 100 years ago which did not destroy the fishery. By measuring the catch data we can compare it to historical norms which were about 0.5-0.75 lb/hook for most of the first half of the last century.
We could increase the effort in 2016 if the results are acceptable or wait longer if the data indicates otherwise. I would restrict the use of gill nets initially since they tend to target the spawning biomass more than hook and line and produces a lower-quality product.
A harvesting period of at least eight weeks and a significant number of fishers is necessary as there are some concerns that we could have abnormally high catches if there were only a few fishers for a few weeks. If the catch rate remained consistently above 0.5 lb/hook either the season could be extended or plans made for a greater effort in 2016.
This is the third article I’ve written on harvest management. The previous one was in The Telegram Feb. 28. The purpose of them is to explore ways we can maximize the profit from harvesting our ocean resources while at the same time ensuring the sustainability of individual stocks.

Barry Darby, St. John’s