New England Fisheries

Why can’t the US be more like the Canadians?

The NEFMC voted against raising the haddock bycatch cap for herring trawlers. Photo credit: NOAA/NEFSC

You don’t usually hear much Canada envy from New England’s fishing industry. But last week, commercial fishermen Vito Giacalone, Richie Canastra, and Jimmy Odlin wrote to the Boston Globe to praise Canada’s haddock regulations, which they say have allowed Canadian fishermen to catch a far larger portion of their haddock quota—93 percent between 2004 and 2011, compared to United States fishermen’s 11 percent over the same period.

These fishermen say United States haddock fishery regulations—which include minimum fish sizes and mesh sizes—are so much more restrictive than Canada’s that they are “handicapping our fishermen.” They accuse US regulators of a lack of flexibility, citing their unwillingness to reduce mesh sizes and open closed areas to fishing.

Well, the good news is that the US fleet can be more like their Canadian counterparts. Government and management aren’t standing in the way as suggested. In fact, the government has offered US fishermen terms very similar to those Canadian haddock fishermen have: 100% industry-funded observers, special gear modifications, and special exemptions from the regulatory closed areas. Industry has rejected those terms, apparently believing that the US taxpayer should be footing the bill for all observers on their boats.

Canadian regulators, in fact, require far more of their successful haddock fleet, including a requirement that they keep and land all the fish they catch and dynamic, real-time “move on” rules that protect juvenile fish and depleted species. Such full retention rules are routinely rejected by the New England Fishery Management Council and move-on rules don’t work without observers on all boats. And the Canadians, as far as I know, don’t allow herring trawlers to drag their massive, small-mesh nets in areas where there are known to be abundant juvenile haddock populations, as the US does.

If the US haddock fleet wants to be treated more like the Canadian haddock fleet, perhaps it needs to start acting more like the Canadian haddock fleet.

The bad news is that regulatory changes that industry voices argue are needed to get the US fleet into current closed areas might not make any difference. Haddock assessments are conducted by NMFS and by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans without international boundaries in mind. Based on that data, the adult haddock seem to have a strong preference for Canadian waters during the times when the haddock aren’t spawning and fishing is optimum.

The maps below show the distribution of adult haddock caught in NMFS spring and fall surveys. Adult haddock appear to be more evenly distributed across US and Canadian waters during the spring season when many fishing areas need to be closed to protect spawning fish. In the fall surveys, when US fishing can be open, most of the adult population has shifted to the northeast peak of Georges and Canadian waters.

A map showing abundance of adult (age 3+) during NMFS surveys conducted in the spring, while fish are spawning.

A map showing the abundance of adult (age 2+) haddock from NMFS fall surveys.

Even if regulations were gutted to allow fishermen to enter the closed area on the US side of the border—one of the few “semi-refuges” left for the troubled yellowtail flounder stock—the adult haddock do not appear to be there in substantial numbers. Changing most, if not all of the management rules in US waters can’t change the distribution of adult haddock. And allowing haddock fishing during spawning periods or on small juvenile fish would simply threaten the sustainability of the fishery on both sides of the border.


6 Responses to Why can’t the US be more like the Canadians?

  • sam clam says:

    Three points:

    1. He is wrong about the small mesh exemptions available to US haddock fishermen. The minimum mesh size available to US fishermen, under all other restrictions, is 6″, vs. ~4.5″ on Canadian vessels.

    2. He doesn’t understand the impact of using too large mesh size when towing for fish. The effect is two fold: One, the fishermen must tow much more, increasing bottom contact four-fold (from 6″ mesh to 4.5″ mesh). This drastically increases bottom contact. 60% of legal sized haddock escape from a 4.5″ mesh opening vs. 10% 4.5″ mesh. Two, the distribution of retained fish using 6″ mesh skews towards only the largest fish. Essentially, the fishermen spend more time towing, and only catch the largest fish. This means less large adults available for the next generation.

    3. He conflates the interests of the massive lobster bait herring industry with the interests of haddock fishermen. This is completely ridiculous. The two groups have opposite interests in maintaining a healthy haddock population.

    Why does CLF consistently advocate for rules that have a net negative impact on the ecosystem and fishermen?

    Only a lawyer would advocate for regulations for regulations sake.

    • Peter Shelley (CLF) says:

      Unless I am mistaken, haddock fishermen could have proposed an experimental fisheries permit at any time that would have allowed exemptions from the 6 inch mesh requirement under the current regulations. Then the benefits you allege from 4.5 inch mesh could be demonstrated. Let me be clearer though: Canadian haddock fishermen have 4.5 inch trawls because they have 100% industry-funded observers on each boat and have to land all the fish they catch in that small mesh and because of that can have effective real-time rules (like Norwegian fleets do as well) to move away from areas of high bycatch. If that is what you are supporting, then we might be in agreement. Your public comments at a Council meeting to that effect would be important. I share your concern about the long term adverse impacts of targeting of the largest fish but the just changing to a smaller haddock mesh without full observer coverage will likely just result in higher levels of unreported bycatch and discards at sea. I don’t know what you mean by conflating the different haddock and herring fleet interests; it just doesn’t make sense to me to allow small mesh pair trawling for herring in juvenile haddock waters.

  • Thaddeus Bigelow says:

    A few comments on the original posting and Mr. Shelley’s reply to Mr. Clam.

    1. The charts he shows are taken from a US/CA assessment that only considers eastern GB. There is an abundance of haddock in the fall near our current CAI, and that is not shown on these charts because the assessment does not cover that area. See, for example, the charts from the fall bottom trawl survey in the resource survey reports available here:

    2. While the Canadians are required to pay for observer coverage, they do not have 100 percent observer coverage. The Canadian trawl fleet paid for 100 percent observer coverage at times but that is not true for the longline fleet. It is also not required for the trawl fleet; the mobile gear fleet requested the higher coverage level on two or three occasions but it is not a license requirement. The longline and scallop fleets have never had 100 pct coverage.

    3. While the Canadians do have a “move along” rule that is supposed to apply when the percentage of catch below a minimum size is landed, they have not implemented that rule in recent years for GB haddock catches because of the large size of the stock.

    4. While the Canadians are supposed to have a full retention policy, it is clear they do not comply. The EGB cod assessment attributes cod discards to the trawl fleet nearly every year. See Table 1 available here:

    • Peter Shelley (CLF) says:

      I appreciate Mr. Bigelow’s comments on and corrections to the information I used in my post. In response, I was not focused on haddock in the western Georges Bank as the discussion was focused on looking at the similarities and differences between the Canadian fleet and the US fleet in their fishing activities on eastern Georges Bank haddock. On observer coverage, I focused on the Canadian mobile gear group which usually lands well more than 80% of the haddock and is the fishery that was under discussion in the news article I was commenting on. The Canadian mobile fleet did agree—and perhaps even proposed—to pay for full observer coverage on several occasions as Mr. Bigelow points out in order to better characterize their catch. That rate has dropped as the performance of the fishery became better understood. I can’t comment on the accuracy of his assertions relative to the “move-along” rule not being necessary with current high catch levels. On the retention policy, Canadian discards of haddock are considered to be negligible and the rule is relatively easy to enforce through the 100% dockside monitoring program. I have to assume that the cod discards attributed to the haddock fleet in the assessments are market-size fish being thrown overboard as the same paragraph of the document reiterates the Canadian rule of no juvenile groundfish discards.

  • B.A. says:

    I know this is off the topic of the Canadian/US haddock fishery, but please see the article at the attached link, as is reflects some of the problems that some of us thought Canada had solved. Superior fishery management, I think not, even though the US groundfish catch shares scheme has totally backfired beyond all comprehension. This problem in Canada seems like a real problem, and is why it is not prudent for only a few entities to own OR control most of the quota. Sounds like corporatism is crushing the little guys up there.

    • Peter Shelley (CLF) says:

      Thanks, B.A., I wasn’t trying to put any fishery or management system up on a pedestal, particularly a Canadian ITQ fishery.

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