Greed, Stupidity and the Atlantic Cod Fishery
Atlantic Fishery: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
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Last week, for the first time since a moratorium on cod fishing was instituted in 1992, there was actually some good news to report on the state of the Atlantic cod stocks near Newfoundland and Labrador.
The Independent newspaper ran an article proclaiming that 16 years into what had been a planned 2-year fishing moratorium scientists were finally “seeing some signs of life in the stocks”.
According to respected fisheries scientist, George Rose, “...it’s very exciting to see it. Their behaviour looks more like it should look — that cod are behaving like codfish, which they haven’t done for a long time in that environment”. He added that the behaviour includes fish at the right water depth, fish over-wintering, and fish exhibiting pre-spawning courtship behaviour.
“That’s very exciting.”
Rose noted however that this is not the time to start looking at the commercial potential of these fish and said it is, “...the dumbest idea I can think of”. Cautioning that this is a time when the priority should be to rebuild a stock that finally appears to be coming back from the brink of extinction.
As if to echo Rose’s concerns scientists at Dalhousie University, in Halifax, reported that a multi-year study into various fish species show that stocks under extreme survival pressure (such as the Atlantic Cod) are prone to wild fluctuations in population. While some years may see a large increase in population, other years will see just the opposite. The reason for these fluctuations are varied and include such factors as climate, predation and the number of older breeding specimens.
All in all the news appears to be cautioiusly optimistic so I’m sure those with a future closely reliant on the future of the fishery will do their absolute best to protect the stocks and ensure they rebound to viable levels once again.
Or maybe not.
No sooner had this new scientific information hit the media then the public was treated to the ramblings of none other than the deputy mayor of Bonivista, one of the most historic fishing communities in North America, calling for an increased cod quota this season.
Hedley Butler, who aside from being the deputy mayor is also a fisherman himself, says the waters in his area are teeming with fish. He says he understands the need for conservation, but (according to him) the stocks can handle an increased quota.
Butler says “...it’s tough knowing that the stock is plentiful, but off limits.
I’m sure it must be tough indeed, but what makes Hedley Butler an expert on how much pressure the stocks can or cannot handle at this point in time?
He may be a fisherman, and as such can no doubt recognize an increase in fish population, but that doesn’t make him an expert on the overall health of the stock.
More likely it makes him an expert on how much of that fish is worth and how much of it he wants to sell, regardless of the larger impact to the species or his community.
What did fisheries scientist George Rose say about increasing fishing pressure at this, “...the dumbest idea I can think of…”?
It amazes me that after decades of discussion around the fragility of the cod stocks, after a shutdown of the commercial industry that put tens of thousands of people out of work and after the once mighty cod was nearly added to the endangered species list, someone like Hedley Butler, who was elected to protect the interests of a fishing community, would put short term greed (his own or that of others) ahead of the long term future of the cod stocks and that of his community.
Yes, Bonivista Bay may be teeming with fish at the moment but when you consider the overall numbers in the region, the stocks are nowhere close to where they need to be to sustain increased commercial fishing activity.
Those fish need to be left alone if there is to be any hope of rebuilding the stocks permanently. They are needed to help repopulate an already decimated species for the future of everyone in the Atlantic region, not pulled from the water and used to line the pockets of a handful of fishermen in the short term.
The political pressure being applied by Deputy Mayor Butler today is the result of exactly the sort of idiotic, self-serving greed that led to the unsustainable quotas of years gone by. Quotas so large they resulted in the collapse of the greatest fishery the world had ever seen.
One thing is for certain. If the Hedley Butlers of this world catch the ear of federal politicians, as they are likely to do, people living in towns like Bonivista, all over this province, might as well pack up and leave for Alberta right now.
To a politician every fishermen and plant worker is another potential vote and when it comes to a political choice between protecting the cod and protecting their jobs, the cod doesn’t stand a chance.
If the Hedley Butlers have their way, the George Rose’s of the world, who are preaching caution and conservation, can put away their rubber boots and fish finders for good because in a few years there won’t be a fish left to study.