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Our future is in the fishery

The fishery is in the news again, problems in the shrimp, crab, cod not coming back as fast as expected, salmon stocks at an all-time low.

The one thing we don’t hear much about is the most important fish in the ocean, the fertilizer that makes all things grow, the lowly caplin.

According to a report this past winter from DFO, the caplin has not improved since 1990-91, when they were at an all-time low, in my opinion they were part of the reason for the collapse of the great Northern Cod, both collapsed at the same time.

In the late 1980s, Canada granted Russia a deal to fish caplin up the Labrador coast, 50,000 tons a year for 5 years, the first year they caught 50,000 tonnes, the next year 1,000 tonnes, caught all the caplin the first year.  Having fished the Labrador coast for many years I knew the importance of caplin to cod and other species. Sad to say there was no cod to catch in Labrador two years before the moratorium, but no one picked up on this valuable information.

The caplin not only is the main food for most fishes but is very important to the birds that live on the ocean, the whales and the seals, because of the ban of our seal products by other countries, we cannot control the seals because we have little or no market, both the federal and provincial Governments did not think that seal products were important enough to the N.L. economy to make sure they were included into the European trade deal.  The seal herds because they have been allowed to explode is having a tremendous effect on the fish in our ocean, especially the caplin which is one of their main diets.

Although it’s been known, caplin stocks have not improved since 1990-91. We still keep destroying them every year, and the powers that control the fishery can’t seem to understand how important they are to the health of our ocean.

At the last provincial Liberal convention there was a resolution put to the floor to ban the commercial caplin fishery until there was science done to see what the caplin stocks were. Several experienced fishermen supported the resolution but it was defeated by Cabinet minister Christopher Mitchelmore, who was able to garner enough support to do so. If our own government is against us how can we win?

In the news this past winter, the federal government decided to spend a large sum of money to restore the beach at Ship Harbour so that caplin can come ashore and spawn. Our beaches are not the problem. We have lots of them. Most of our caplin beaches do not have any caplin spawning on them anymore. The problem is that as soon as the caplin decided to come ashore to spawn the seiners will catch them first.

Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc, when questioned by a Fisheries Broadcast reporter about the state of the caplin fishery last year — where caplin were scarce and very small (same thing happened to the cod before the moratorium) and plants only bought them because there was nothing else — admitted there was a problem but made the statement, “although they were small, they would die anyway, so it was better to catch them.”

If you kill them before they reproduce where is the future for the caplin and the other species that depend on them?

Don Hutchens, president of the Salmonid Council of Newfoundland and Labrador wrote a letter in the Telegram on Feb. 24, where he talked about the importance of caplin to the wild salmon and the need for recreation salmon anglers and commercial cod and caplin fishers to stop the infighting and concentrate their anger at Ottawa.

If you read this letter carefully you will understand, as I do, our caplin has never been managed on its benefits to the ocean, but on how much money we can squeeze out of this resource. That is contrary to all common sense and the main reason our oceans are only producing a small percentage of what it once did.

This article was written before DFO released their report on caplin on March 12.

I will be following up with my thoughts, as a Newfoundlander who cares about the future of the fishery and our province and my different opinion on this report at a later date if the newspapers will allow me.

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