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Groundfish - Gulf of St. Lawrence (NAFO) Subdivisions 3Pn, 4Vn and Divisions 4RST - January 2017

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Photo of an Atlantic halibut
Atlantic halibut
Photo of an American plaice
American plaice
Photo of a witch flounder
Witch flounder
Photo of a cod
Photo of a redfish
Photo of a Greenland halibut
Greenland halibut

The purpose of this Integrated Fisheries Management Plan (IFMP) is to identify the main objectives for the groundfish fishery in the Gulf of St. Lawrence-North Atlantic Fishing Organization (NAFO) Subdivision 3Pn and Divisions 4RST, as well as the management measures that will be used to achieve the objectives. This document also serves to communicate basic information about the fishery and its management. There is a separate IFMP for groundfish in NAFO) Subdivision 4Vn.

Where Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is responsible for implementing obligations under land claims agreements, the IFMP will be implemented in a manner consistent with these obligations. In the event that an IFMP is inconsistent with obligations under land claims agreements, the provisions of the land claims agreements will prevail to the extent of the inconsistency.

This IFMP is not a legally binding instrument which can form the basis of a legal challenge. The IFMP can be modified at any time and does not fetter the Minister's discretionary powers set out in the Fisheries Act. The Minister can, for reasons of conservation or for any other valid reasons, modify any provision of the IFMP in accordance with the powers granted pursuant to the Fisheries Act.

The Gulf Region comprises all the waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence adjacent to the eastern coast of New Brunswick, the Northumberland Strait coast of Nova Scotia and western Cape Breton Island, as well as the whole of Prince Edward Island. These waters, which represent about one per cent of Canada’s exclusive economic zone, account for approximately 15 per cent of the total catch of Canadian fisheries, and constitute one of the country’s most productive marine areas.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Region encompasses over 29,000 kilometers of coastline and a continental shelf of 2.5 million square kilometers. The region has responsibilities in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and includes three international boundaries including the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) Regulatory Area, St. Pierre et Miquelon (France) and Greenland. The region covers an area from nearshore to the Flemish Cap, 320 NM offshore.

The Quebec Region falls within the borders of the province of Quebec. It encompasses more than 6 000 km of coastline running along the river, the estuary and part of the Gulf of St. Lawrence as well as Nunavik (Ungava Bay, eastern James Bay, eastern Hudson Bay and the Southern part of Hudson Strait).

The Maritimes Region, also known as the Scotia-Fundy Fisheries Management Sector, extends over two provinces, from the northern tip of Cape Breton to the New Brunswick-Maine border, and encompasses over 8,000 km of coastline.

Map of Atlantic Regions of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans

This figure illustrates the four Fisheries and Oceans Canada region involved in managing groundfish in the Gulf of St. Lawrence: Gulf Region, Quebec Region, Newfoundland and Labrador Region and Maritimes Region.

Table of Contents

1. Overview of the Fishery
2. Stock Assessment, Science and Traditional Knowledge
3. Economic, Social and Cultural Importance of the Fishery
4. Management Issues
5. Objectives
6. Access and Allocation


7. Management Measures for the Duration of the Plan
8. Compliance Plan
9. Performance Review
10. Safety at Sea

1. Overview of the Fishery

The Atlantic groundfish fishery involves 54 groundfish stocks distributed in an area ranging from Davis Strait off the Labrador Coast to Georges Bank in the Gulf of Maine. This IFMP covers ten of these stocks specific to the Gulf of St. Lawrence because of either their current or historical commercial importance for the area. Management of the fishery is generally divided into the Northern Gulf, North Atlantic Fishing Organization (NAFO) Subdivision 3Pn and Divisions 4RS and the Southern Gulf, NAFO Division 4T and subdivision 4Vn.

Common name Scientific name Stock area
Cod (Atlantic cod) Gadus morhua 4RS-3Pn (Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence)
    4TVn (Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence)
White hake Urophycis tenuis 4T
Atlantic halibut Hippoglossus hippoglossus 4RST
Greenland halibut (turbot) Reinhardtius hippoglossoides 4RST
American plaice Hippoglossoides platessoides 4T
Witch flounder Glyptocephalus cynoglossus 4RST
Winter flounder Pseudopleuronectes americanus) 4T
Yellowtail flounder Pleuronectesferrugineus 4T
Redfish Sebastes fasciatus and Sebastes mentella Unit 1: 4RST and 3Pn4Vn (January to May)

This table illustrates the ten groundfish stock specific to the Gulf of St. Lawrrence. It is read from left to right starting with the species common name, the species scientific name and the last column is the species stock area.

1.1 History

This history of the groundfish fishery in the Gulf of St. Lawrence really cannot be separated from the history of the rise and the downturn of the cod fishery in Atlantic Canada. Europeans, including the English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Basques, began fishing off Newfoundland in the 16th century. The plentiful, easy-to-catch cod was the most valuable commodity: dried or salted, it could be transported long distances and would keep for several months. Around the turn of the twentieth century, fishing technology and fishing power improved. Development of fisheries increased as rising prosperity and refrigeration in homes, stores, and transportation as well as improvements to storage facilities led to an increased demand for frozen fish, fundamentally changing the groundfish industry. The Canadian cod catch began to fall as both domestic and foreign fleets, the latter using huge factory freezer trawlers, increased fishing pressure. Overexpansion in some areas, as fishermen raced to get the fish before their competitors, began depleting stocks and amplifying the industry's chronic problems of low incomes and instability. From the 1950s on, fishery experts had bemoaned the common-property nature of the industry, with its tendency towards overexpansion and crisis. Licence limitation had failed to reduce fishing power and in the late 1970s, the idea of individual quotas (IQs) spread widely. Individual quotas offered the potential to end the destructive "race for the fish" by providing a greater sense of ownership through these quasi-property rights. Soon added to this was the idea of individual transferable quotas (ITQs), which could be bought and sold, letting a smaller number of enterprises consolidate quotas, typically under guidelines preventing excessive concentration.

In the mid-1970s foreign fishing became a national concern. Canada extended its fishing limits to 200 nautical miles (about 370 km) in 1977. Most foreign vessels left the Atlantic zone, federal fisheries authorities increased enforcement and doubled research. Strict quotas began rebuilding groundfish stocks. Scientists predicted strong growth especially for the Northern cod stock off eastern Newfoundland and Labrador. The thinking was that holding the fleet stable and increasing the abundance of fish would benefit all. The new zone shone with optimism, and the late 1970s and early 80s saw growth and relative prosperity in Atlantic fisheries. Despite rising catches, cost and market factors in the early 1980s drove the four largest groundfish processors, who controlled the offshore trawler fleet and influenced many other fisheries, close to bankruptcy. For many firms on the East Coast, the result was dashed expectations, imminent bankruptcy, and an appeal for government assistance to prevent a collapse of the industry.

In January 1982, the federal government appointed Dr. Michael Kirby to head up a new Task Force on Atlantic Fisheries. Despite concerted efforts to ensure a successful and sustainable fishery, by 1989, federal scientists were calling for a drastic reduction in Northern cod catches. In 1992, 15 years after the introduction of the 200-mile zone, a moratorium was imposed on the Northern cod fishery and closures followed for other major stocks of cod, haddock, and other groundfish. Total groundfish catches sank from 734,000 tonnes in 1988 to 96,000 tonnes in 1995, and the total value dropped from $373 to $102 million. Some 40,000 persons, mostly plant employees, lost work in the Atlantic Provinces and Québec.

In 1993, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) set up the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council (FRCC), bringing together government scientists and officials, industry representatives, and academics to make Total Allowable Catch (TAC) and conservation recommendations for Atlantic fisheries, mainly for groundfish stocks. Foreign fishing, although tightly restricted within the 200-mile zone, drew some blame for depleting stocks at the outskirts of the zone. In 1995, Canada arrested the Spanish trawler Estai outside the 200-mile zone, precipitating an international dispute, but also bringing better behaviour in following years by European fleets. By 1994, the Atlantic Groundfish Strategy (TAGS) and related programs were implemented with the federal government providing more than $4 billion in assistance (including a groundfish licence retirement program) to reduce economic dependence on the fisheries. Despite these drastic measures, which also included sporadic opening and closing of some cod fisheries, the stocks continued to decline.

In their attempts to understand the state of the stock, DFO scientists focussed their attention on life history parameters such as growth, (which has slowed), natural mortality (which has increased), recruit per spawner biomass and fish condition. Furthermore, during the 1990s and early 2000s, there were no clearly defined criteria on which to base decisions to either close or reopen the commercial fishery. By 2003, DFO, the provinces and industry were working together through cod Action Teams to develop recovery strategies for each of the cod stocks. This resulted in the development in the Southern Gulf of a comprehensive report “Strategic Vision: Long-term Recovery and Sustainability of the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence 4TVn cod Stock”. The recovery strategy was based on the precautionary approach with established biological reference points to define the critical, cautious and healthy status of the stock. More recently, biological reference points have also been defined for the Northern Gulf cod stock and work to implement the precautionary approach is commencing on other groundfish fisheries.

In more recent years, continued declines in Gulf groundfish stocks led to further moratoria (2009 to present: moratorium on Southern Gulf cod fishing) and reductions in TAC levels for other groundfish species. In April 2010, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessed the status of both Gulf cod stocks as “endangered”, while the status of the Maritimes designatable unit of American plaice was assessed as “threatened”. Both species of redfish (Sebastes fasciatus and Sebastes mentella) have been assessed as “threatened” and “endangered”, respectively. In 2013-2014, public consultations have been held on the potential listing of these three species on the Species at Risk Registry. A decision is still pending at the time this integrated fisheries management plan (IFMP) is published.

1.2 Types of Fishery and Participants

1.2.1 Commercial

Commercial fishing is undertaken by registered fish harvesters who hold a groundfish licence with fixed gear, mobile gear, or both. In the area covered by this document, there are 2405 licenced fish harvesters with a homeport in the Gulf Region, 292 in the Maritimes Region, 953 in Quebec and 978 in Newfoundland and Labrador.

1.2.2 First Nations

There are 16 First Nations who have 89 communal commercial groundfish licences in the Gulf Region, one First Nation in Newfoundland with 9 communal commercial licences for the area covered by this plan, one in the Maritimes Region with one licence, and 10 First Nations with 33 licences from the Québec Region. Licences are also issued for food, social and ceremonial purposes.

1.2.3 Recreational

Recreational fish harvesters target mainly cod and white hake. They are restricted to fishing near shore and are permitted to retain a maximum number of groundfish species (bag limit). There is also a significant charter boat industry established mostly in Prince Edward Island and the Magdalen Islands.

1.3 Location of the Fishery

This IFMP is for groundfish fisheries in the Gulf of St. Lawrence within NAFO management units 3Pn and 4RSTVn. The Northern Gulf is generally considered to be within Subdivision 3Pn and Divisions 4RS, while the Southern Gulf is within Subdivision 4Vn and Division 4T. These NAFO management units are further divided in smaller areas as shown in Appendix A.

1.4 Fishery Characteristics

Groundfish fisheries are undertaken with either fixed gears (gillnets, longlines and handlines) or mobile gear (otter trawls and Danish/Scottish seines). The use of mobile gear for fishing cod has been prohibited in the Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence (3Pn 4RS) since the first cod moratorium in 1993. Although the use of mobile gear is still permitted in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence (4T) for other groundfish species, it has decreased considerably due to low availability of quotas for directed fisheries. In 2013, a ministerial decision confirmed the future re-entry of the mobile gear fleet in the 4RST Greenland halibut (Turbot) fishery. This re-entry will take place progressively as (and only when) the 4RST TAC reaches levels above 4,500 t.

The fixed gear fleet includes vessels less than 19.2 m (65’), with the vast majority being less than 13.7 m (45’). The mobile gear fleet includes several different vessel categories: less than 13.7 m; vessels 13.7 m to 19.2 m; vessels 19.2 to 30.4 m (100’) and the greater than 30.4 m category, the latter not being permitted to fish within the Gulf for many years.

Table 1 gives an overview of the number of licensed fish harvesters having access to the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 2014 by groundfish gear sector (NAFO Subdivision 3Pn and Divisions 4RST). It is important to note that in recent years only a small portion of licence holders are active (have had landings) in the fishery.

Table 1 - Number of Licenced Fish Harvesters with Access to the Gulf of St. Lawrence Groundfish Fishery (2014)
Gear Type Gulf Region Maritimes Region Quebec Region Western portion of Newfoundland and Labrador Region
Fixed gear 1303 257 780 725
Mobile gear 24 47 100 50
Fixed and mobile gear 475     6
Total 1802 304 880 781

Table 1 illustrates the number of licenced fish harvesters with access to the Gulf of St. Lawrence groundfish fishery as of 2014 by fishing gear type and for each region. The columns are the regions and the rows are the gear types. The gear types are fixed gear, mobile gear and fixed and mobile gear. Only the Gulf Region has licences with 2 types of fishing gear.

Annual TACs are typically established as part of multi-year harvesting plans for all commercially fished groundfish stocks. These TACs are then subdivided into fleet allocations based on gear type (i.e. fixed or mobile gear), geographic location, or management regime (competitive or individual transferable quota). The management cycle for groundfish stocks within the Gulf of St. Lawrence is from May 15 until May 14 of the following year. However, closures for conservation purposes may delay the opening of specific fisheries. More detailed information about management measures, access and allocations, TACs, etc. are found later in this document.

1.5 Governance

Development of fishery management plans is undertaken in consultation with stakeholders. Every second year, the Gulf Groundfish Advisory Committee (GGAC) meets in order to discuss fisheries issues and to establish the positions of the stakeholders in the various fisheries for which decisions are required. The GGAC membership includes fish harvester organization members, provincial representatives, members from the processing sector, and aboriginal organizations.

In addition to fishery management plans specific to each species, the fishery is governed by a suite of legislation, policy and regulations including but not limited to those noted below:

Fisheries Act
Oceans Act, 1996
Species at Risk Act, 2002
Coastal Fisheries Protection Act, 1985
Atlantic Fishery Regulations (AFR), 1985
Fishery (General) Regulations, 1993
Aboriginal Communal Fishing Licences Regulations, 1993
Commercial Fisheries Licensing Policy for Eastern Canada 1996
Commercial Fisheries Licensing Policy for the Gulf Region
A Policy Framework for the Management of Fisheries on Canada ’s Atlantic Coast
Sustainable Fisheries Framework: Conservation and Sustainable Use Elements

  • Precautionary Approach policy
  • Foraging Species policy
  • Sensitive Benthic Areas policy
  • Policy on Managing Bycatch

1.6 Approval Process

Generally, decisions concerning major conservation and management matters are made by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. Other elements related to the regular ongoing management of the fishery are made by the Regional Director General (RDG) for the Gulf Region in cooperation with the RDGs for Quebec, Maritimes and Newfoundland and Labrador Regions.

1.7 Multi-year management approach and schedule

In 2012, DFO undertook a review of the management of fisheries with the goal to implement a management approach based on multi-year cycles where possible. This approach allows establishing TAC levels for several years at a time, depending on the species or stock. Complete science stock assessments also take place on a multi-year schedule, and the science advice is now formulated for several years, depending on the species or stock. It is important to note that Science continues to issue a stock status update for each species on years when no complete stock assessment is scheduled. Starting in 2013, the GGAC meet every second year, instead of every year as it had in the past.

For Gulf groundfish fisheries, the multi-year approach can be summarized by the following table indicating the years when TACs are established and when complete science reviews (also known as Regional Advisory Processes or RAPs) occur, per species/stock. It also indicates the years when a meeting of the GGAC will take place.

Species 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Northern Gulf cod (4RS3Pn) TAC   RAP/TAC   RAP/TAC  
Southern Gulf cod (4TVn)     RAP/TAC      
Greenland halibut 4RST RAP/TAC   RAP/TAC   RAP/TAC  
Atlantic halibut 4RST RAP/TAC   RAP/TAC   RAP/TAC  
Winter flounder 4T         RAP/TAC  
Redfish Unit 1 4RST, 3Pn (Jan-May), 4Vn (Jan-May)     RAP/TAC TAC To be confirmed To be confirmed
Yellowtail flounder 4T       RAP/TAC    
American plaice 4T       RAP/TAC    
White hake 4T     RPA*   TAC  
Witch flounder 4RST         RAP/TAC  
GGAC meetings X   X   X  
*Recovery Potential Assessment

This table indicates when the next Regional Advisory Process (RAP) will be held for each species, when the next Total Allowable Catch (TAC) will be decided for each species and when the last Recovery Potential Assessment (RPA) was for the white hake. It also indicates the year of all the Gulf Groundfish Advisory Committee meetings until 2017.

2. Stock Assessment, Science and Traditional Knowledge

2.1 Stock Assessment

Stock assessment and research programs involving groundfish are conducted by DFO and through cooperative research programs carried out in conjunction with industry. Stock assessments are reviewed and scientific advice is provided through Regional Advisory Process (RAP) or Zonal Advisory Process (ZAP) meetings coordinated by the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS). The assessments are peer reviewed and information is made public in the form of Science Advisory Reports (SAR), research documents and meeting proceedings through publications available on the web (Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat).

Assessments use commercial fishery data and abundance indices derived mainly from annual DFO trawl surveys and from sentinel fishery surveys. The latter, which are conducted by commercial fish harvesters with support by at-sea observers, follow a scientific sampling protocol to obtain information on the abundance, biomass, distribution and size composition of cod and other groundfish species. The status of some resources may be defined using population models, but other indicators may be used to determine trends in stock abundance. For example, tagging programs may also be used to estimate exploitation rates. For stocks with population models, projections are conducted and the risk of decline in spawning stock biomass is examined for various catch levels. The following is general information about stock trends, with the most recent stock status information available from the web site noted above.

2.1.1 Cod in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence (4TVn)

2.1.2 Cod in the Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence (3Pn, 4RS)

2.1.3 Greenland halibut (turbot) (4RST)

2.1.4 Atlantic halibut (4RST)

2.1.5 American plaice (4T)

2.1.6 Witch flounder (4RST)

2.1.7 Redfish Units 1 and 2

2.1.8 Winter flounder (4T)

2.1.9 Yellowtail flounder (4T)

2.1.10 White hake (4T)

2.2 Precautionary Approach

In general, the precautionary approach in fisheries management is about being cautious when scientific knowledge is uncertain, and not using the absence of adequate scientific information as a reason to postpone action or failure to take action to avoid serious harm to fish stocks or their ecosystem. This approach is widely accepted as an essential part of sustainable fisheries management. Applying the precautionary approach to fisheries management decisions entails establishing a harvest strategy that:

In keeping with the precautionary approach (PA) framework, the following table summarizes the development of reference points and PA-compliant harvest decision rules for the various Gulf groundfish species:

Species/stock Limit Reference Point Upper Stock Reference Stock status zone PA-compliant harvest decision rules
Cod 4TVn 80,000 t SSB* 165,000 to 185,000 t SSB* (proposed) Critical zone N/A (moratorium)
Cod 4RS3Pn 116,000 t SSB* 180,000 t SSB* Critical zone HDRs in place (not assessed for PA compliancy)
White hake 4T 12,800 t SSB N/A Critical zone N/A (moratorium)
Atlantic halibut 4RST N/A N/A N/A N/A
Greenland halibut (turbot) 4RST 10,056 t** To be established at a later date. N/A N/A
American plaice 4T 64,000 t SSB* N/A Critical zone N/A
Witch flounder 4RST 10,700 t*** To be established in consultation with Industry (21,400 t *** proposed by Science) Critical zone N/A
Winter flounder 4T N/A N/A N/A N/A
Yellowtail flounder 4T 1.06 kg per standardized catches from the September multi-species survey, fish >= 25 cm 2.12 kg per standardized catches from the September multi-species survey, fish >= 25 cm Critical zone N/A
Redfish Unit 1&2 S.Fasciatus: 148,000 t****
S. Mentella: 233,000 t****
S.Fasciatus: 296,000 t****
S. Mentella: 466,000 t****
Critical zone (both species) N/A
*  Spawning Stock Biomass
** Stock Biomass of fish 44 cm and up
*** Stock Biomass of commercial-sized fish (30 cm and up)
**** The Limit Reference Point and the Upper Stock Reference are 40% and 80% of Bmsy from a production model fitting.

The precautionary approach table has five columns illustrating the species per stocks, the limit reference point, the upper stock reference, the stock status zone and if there are precautionary approach compliant harvest decision rules.

Over time, it is anticipated that the precautionary approach would be implemented in all Gulf groundfish stocks.

3. Economic, Social and Cultural Importance of the Fishery

Groundfish fisheries are one of the pillars of the Eastern Canadian society, as they supported the establishment of the first coastal colonies and were one of the first industries and trades to develop on the East coast. (Note: Aboriginal input on cultural and historical importance of groundfish fisheries for First Nations of the Atlantic is required here). Until the early 1990s, groundfish, mostly cod, dominated seafood landings in eastern Canada and its importance to the commercial fishing sector cannot be overstated. However, beginning in the early 1990s, it became evident that many populations of groundfish in eastern Canada were in a poor state and the fishery in many stocks was closed in 1992-1993. In 1990, the landed value of the commercial fishery in eastern Canada was $956 million. Groundfish accounted for $388 million of that amount, representing 41%. The landed value of cod was $244 million, 63% of groundfish, and 26% of total landed value. Despite the groundfish moratoria of the 1990’s, the total landed value of all species fished in eastern Canada increased considerably over the same time period due to a significant increase in the landed value of shellfish. In 2010, the landed value of the commercial fishery was $1.3 billion with groundfish valued at $143 million, or just over 10%. Cod value had decreased to $22 million (15% of groundfish), only 2% of total landed value of commercial fisheries. About 10% of groundfish landings for eastern Canada come from the Gulf of St. Lawrence.hows the landed volume and value of the Gulf of St. Lawrence groundfish species for 2005-2010 seasons.

In 2010, eastern Canada exports of groundfish were at $209 million compared to $824 million in 1990. Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador provide over 90% of the export value with the United States, China and Europe being the major destinations.

Most groundfish harvesters in the Gulf of St. Lawrence have other licences for commercially important species such as snow crab, shrimp, lobster, and there is a limited number of fish harvesters who have specialized in harvesting groundfish only. In recent years, of the more than 4,500 groundfish licence holders, only about one third has been active in the fishery with reported landings.

4. Management Issues

4.1 Fisheries Issues

The following management issues are common to more than one fishery or species.

4.1.1 Geographical Fleet Shares

In order to allow users to take more responsibility for the management of their fishery and to facilitate more efficient local management of the groundfish resources, there is a need to establish geographical fleet shares for various existing competitive groundfish fisheries. Eight pre-defined geographical fleets have been identified (Newfoundland and Labrador, Maritimes Region, Quebec North Shore, Magdalen Islands, Gaspé, Eastern New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Gulf Nova Scotia) and shares have been established for 4RST Atlantic halibut and 4TVn cod (see Appendix C). In the fall of 2011, the firm Ernst & Young reviewed the decision on Atlantic halibut inshore fixed gear fleet sharing and found that the methodologies and application of policy and precedence was in line with decisions made in other fisheries.

4.1.2 Use of By-Catch Quotas

In many fisheries, for practical reasons, there is a requirement to allow a by-catch. For a variety of reasons, there have been by-catch quotas left either unfished, or underutilized in various fleet sectors. Although these by-catch quotas are often not fished at all, they continue to be recognized in various quota sharing exercises and DFO receives requests by various fleet sectors on what can and should be done with these quotas (i.e. Greenland halibut by-catch quotas in the redfish index fishery).

4.1.3 Recreational Landings

With the exception of the charter vessel seasonal reports on landings from PEI, there is little to no information on catch and effort, or mortality of some groundfish species in recreational fisheries. There is currently no requirement for a marine recreational licence in the Gulf groundfish fisheries and this has had a number of negative implications for the management of groundfish fisheries, like the impossibility to measure or to control the number of participants or the removals from the recreational fisheries.

4.1.4 Latent Effort

Of the more than 4,500 commercial fish harvesters licensed to fish groundfish, only a small portion have been active in the fisheries over the last number of years. The reasons for the high level of inactivity are many but would include low availability of resource and weak markets for groundfish products. Should the price of groundfish strengthen significantly, this latent effort could easily become active with unknown results on the health of the stocks and on the viability of fishing enterprises. For this reason, the Department is supportive of various fleet rationalization initiatives that aim at diminishing the number of groundfish licences while improving the sustainability of the licences that remain.

4.2 Depleted Species Concerns

The Species at Risk Act (SARA), enacted in 2003, is the legislative basis for the Government of Canada’s strategy for the protection and conservation of wildlife species at risk and biological diversity. The purpose of the Act is to prevent wildlife species from becoming extinct and to provide for their recovery. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is responsible for the protection and recovery of aquatic species at risk. The protection and recovery of listed species at risk involves the development and implementation of recovery strategies and action plans for species listed as extirpated, endangered or threatened and management plans for species listed as special concern. Recovery documents can be at a single species level or at an ecosystem level, whichever is determined to be of greatest benefit for recovery of the listed species.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), an independent organization of experts, assesses the status of wildlife species using the best available information of the biological status of the species. A number of groundfish species in the Gulf of St. Lawrence have been assessed as at risk by COSEWIC. The following species are currently (or will be) under consideration for addition to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk under the Species at Risk Act.

A threatened designation means that the species is likely to become endangered if nothing is done to reverse the factors leading to its extirpation. An endangered designation means that the species is facing imminent extirpation or extinction. Among the groundfish species, three wolffish species, namely Atlantic wolffish (Special Concern), Spotted wolffish (Threatened) and the Northern wolffish (Threatened) are on the List of Wildlife Species at Risk and are protected under the Species at Risk Act.

Further information about the Species at Risk Act can be found at the web sites listed below:

4.3 Oceans and Habitat Considerations

Work continues to develop a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) as tools to support the ecosystem approach and to support sustainable fisheries. Marine Protected Areas are not necessarily “no take” zones; rather they are developed and implemented to support sustainable fisheries management. The first step in developing new MPAs requires the identification of Areas of Interest (AOI )which are identified by their ecological and biological importance and are deemed to be under some level of threat from human activity. One AOI has been identified in the Southern Gulf (the American Bank) and consultative processes have been initiated to ascertain whether they become MPAs.

There seems to be a growing consensus that the grey seal population in the Southern Gulf have had, and continue to have a negative impact on the status of the groundfish stocks, and are largely to blame for serious viability concerns of many groundfish stocks. These include effects on the recovery of 4TVn cod, gear damage, fish spawning and migration disruption, and parasite transfer to fish.

4.4 Gear Impacts

Scientific reviews has been undertaken to examine the impacts of mobile gear on habitat. The following science advisory reports contain conclusions and advice:

Below is a summary of the report:

Mobile bottom-contact fishing gears do have impacts on benthic populations, communities, and habitats. The effects are not uniform, but depend on at least:

Application of measures to reduce impacts of mobile bottom-contacting gears requires case specific analyses and planning; there are no universally appropriate fixes. However, the documented effects of mobile bottom-contacting gears on seafloor populations, communities, and habitats are consistent enough with well-established ecological theory, and across studies, that cautious extrapolation of information across sites is legitimate. Case-specific research programmes are not required to develop options for case-specific applications of these generalisations.

Circumstances are discussed under which general spatial management, closed areas, gear modifications, and effort reductions could provide some mitigation of the effects of mobile bottom-contacting gears on benthic habitats, populations, and communities.

“Frontier areas” (areas without histories of fishing by bottom-contacting gears) require special considerations in managing the risks posed by mobile bottom-contacting gears. Several of these special considerations are discussed in the report.

In the application of precaution for managing the ecosystem effects of any human activity, the capacity of ecosystem components to recover from perturbations is an important consideration. Several considerations in this context are discussed, as are related issues of more general risk management relative to fisheries using bottom-contacting mobile gears.

A number of gaps in knowledge and necessary scientific studies are also discussed.

Below is a summary of this report:

The fishing gears reviewed in this science advisory report have impacts on marine habitats and biodiversity. However, these impacts are not uniform and are not expected to occur universally every time a particular gear is used.

Generally, the impacts of any fishing gear are relative to the effort of the fishery. The severity of any impact will depend on at least:

Mitigation measures exist to reduce, and sometimes eliminate, every documented impact related to fishing gears. Many Canadian fisheries make use of appropriate mitigation measures as part of their regular operations and some have been shown to provide benefits to the fishery (e.g. reduced handling time and/or improved product quality).

The effectiveness of every mitigation measure is fishery-specific and depends on the particular impact being addressed, the appropriateness of the measure, and the how it is implemented. An evaluation of the nature and scale of impacts is an important step in identifying appropriate mitigation measures.

4.5 International Issues

The European Union (EU) has introduced regulations effective January 2010 that require Canadian fish and seafood products to have a government validated catch certificate attesting that the product is not from an Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishery. Further information can be found at /fm-gp/ccp-pcc/export/index-eng.html.

There are growing legal and market driven demands in key fish importing countries for assurances that fisheries are managed sustainably and in environmentally responsible ways. The groundfish industry will be faced with decisions on whether to obtain certification in support of “eco-labelling” their products.

5. Objectives

5.1 Stock Conservation

5.2 Ecosystem

5.3 Stewardship

5.4 Social, Cultural and Economic

5.5 Compliance

6. Access and Allocation

Principles respecting the management of Atlantic Canadian fisheries including the priority of access to fishery resources can be found in the “Policy Framework for the Management of Fisheries on Canada’s Atlantic Coast”.

In response to the Supreme Court of Canada in the Sparrow (1990) and Marshall (1999) decisions, licenses are issued to Aboriginal organizations authorizing harvesting for food, social and ceremonial purposes; and communal commercial licenses are issued to Aboriginal organizations and they designate the fish harvesters and vessels to be used.

Commercial access to the groundfish fishery is limited and granted through licences issued at the discretion of the Minister under section 7 of the Fisheries Act. The policies governing the issue of these licences including licence reissuance, license splits, partnering, vessel replacement, fish harvester and vessel registrations, general policy guidelines, etc., are included in the “Commercial Fisheries Licensing Policy for the Gulf Region” and the “Commercial Fisheries Licensing Policy for Eastern Canada 1996”.

The groundfish fisheries covered in this IFMP are quota-based and are each subject to a TAC. Appendix B provides information about how some of the TACs are divided and allocated to various fleets. Annual information about access and allocations is provided in the annual management plans and Conservation Harvesting Plans (CHPs) available from DFO.

7. Management Measures for the Duration of the Plan

This section provides an overview of some of the key management measures. Full details are found in various regulations and schedules and in conditions of licenses which are issued annually. Information about annual management measures is provided at /decisions/index-eng.htm and in annual Conservation Harvesting Plans (CHPs) available from DFO.

7.1 Total Allowable Catch (TAC)

TACs are established for all commercially fished groundfish stocks taking into account the status of each stock and where available a risk analysis of various TAC options. These TACs are then subdivided into fleet allocations based on gear type, geographic location, or management regime (competitive or ITQ).

7.2 Fishing Seasons/Areas

The management cycle for groundfish stocks within the Gulf of St. Lawrence is from May 15th until May 14th of the following year. However, closures for conservation purposes may delay the opening of specific fisheries. The fishing areas are presented in Section 1.3 and Appendix A

7.3 Control and Monitoring of Removals

7.3.1 Gear Restrictions

In the Gulf of St. Lawrence, commercial groundfish fisheries are undertaken with either fixed gear (gillnets, longlines and handlines) or mobile gear (otter trawls and Danish/Scottish seines). The use of mobile gear for fishing cod has been prohibited in the Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence (NAFO Subdivision 3Pn and Divisions 4RS) since 1994. For most fisheries, there are clear directives regarding the configuration of gear (ex. mesh size or hook size) and the amount of gear permitted (ex. number of hooks). These measures are identified in the corresponding CHP for each directed fishery.

7.3.2 At-sea Monitoring

At-sea monitoring by approved third-party companies is a requirement in these commercial groundfish fisheries. The level of coverage required may vary by fishery, and is based on factors such as location, timing and potential by-catch of other species.

7.3.3 Monitoring of Catches

Commercial groundfish fisheries require that all landings be recorded at dockside by an approved third-party monitoring company.

7.3.4 Harvest Controls

There are minimum legal sizes for some groundfish species. For Atlantic halibut, American plaice, and winter flounder (Blackback), undersize fish must be returned to the water. This only applies to Atlantic halibut for Quebec Region licence holders). Dogfish and lumpfish must all be returned to the water. This is optional for Quebec Region licence holders). For other groundfish species, all size of fish must be landed. 

7.3.5 Small Fish and By-catch Protocols

There are protocols in place in order to ensure that the incidence of capturing small fish and by-catches are minimized. Protocols for small fish are based on a percentage limit for the capture of fish smaller than a given size. The by-catch protocols are based on established daily limits in weight of the by-catch or as a percentage of the total catch. The protocols trigger closures (either temporary or seasonal) of the fishery.

7.3.6 Quota Reconciliation

Quota reconciliation is the process of accounting for quota overruns by deducting the overrun on a one-for-one basis from one fishing period to the next. DFO implemented quota reconciliation for all quota-based Gulf groundfish fisheries starting with the 2010 season. With quota reconciliation, quotas, either individual or competitive, are reduced by quantities equal to an overrun from the previous fishing season. It is not a penalty or sanction for overfishing; rather it represents an accounting of overruns from one fishing period to the next so that removals respect established quotas over time.

7.4 Decision Rules

While preliminary harvest decision rules have been established for the Southern Gulf cod stock, work remains to be done to ensure they are compliant with the precautionary approach. In the meantime, the Southern Gulf cod TAC is established taking into account the established biological reference points and stock status. Recently, biological reference points were revised for the Northern Gulf cod and Greenland halibut. Harvest decision rules were developed and approved for Northern Gulf cod, under the direction of a DFO-industry working group. Furthermore, biological reference points have been defined for redfish (Sebastes fasciatus and Sebastes mentella), American plaice and witch flounder with the goal of developing harvest decision rules in the near future. Over time, it is anticipated that the precautionary approach would be implemented in all Gulf groundfish stocks.

7.5 SARA Requirements

When fishing activities may incidentally capture, take, kill, harm or harass listed species, permission under SARA will be required in addition to the fishing licence issued by the Minister. Where permission under both Acts is required for the same activity, fishing licences meeting SARA requirements (i.e consistent with SARA section 74) will be issued. Licence conditions will be added to the fishing licences (consistent with SARA section 75) to protect a listed wildlife species, any part of its critical habitat or the residences of its individuals. For similar purposes, the competent minister may also revoke or amend any term or condition.

Listed species applicable to this plan include:

All groundfish licence holders are required, through conditions of licence, to submit a SARA logbook at the end of each fishing season whether or not species at risk are encountered.

7.6 Licensing

Anyone fishing groundfish commercially must have a valid licence and conditions and vessels must be registered and vessel registration numbers displayed. Crew members must also be registered. For communal commercial licences held by Aboriginal organizations, vessels and crews must be designated to fish.

A number of policies are in place to promote independent core fish harvesters, the owner/operator policy, the fleet separation policy, etc. More information about these and other policies are found in “Commercial Fisheries Licensing Policy for Eastern Canada (1996) and the “Commercial Fisheries Licensing Policy for the Gulf Region”. Policies governing aboriginal fishing are presently in development.

For those wishing to fish groundfish recreationally, there is no marine recreational licence in Atlantic Canada but daily bag limits exist, as well as fishing seasons and other restrictions, depending on the areas. Management measures outlined in the Atlantic Fishery Regulations (1985), as amended from time to time, are also enforced.

In response to the Supreme Court of Canada in the Sparrow (1990) decision, licences are issued to First Nations communities authorizing harvesting for food, social and ceremonial purposes.

7.7 Habitat Protection Measures

The following areas within the Gulf of St. Lawrence are closed in order to protect fish during the spawning period:

8. Compliance Plan

8.1 Conservation and Protection Program Description

The Conservation and Protection program promotes and maintains compliance with legislation, regulations and management measures implemented to achieve the conservation and sustainable use of Canada’s aquatic resources, and the protection of species at risk, fish habitat and oceans.

The program is delivered through a balanced regulatory management and enforcement approach including:

8.2 Regional Compliance Program Delivery

Compliance in the groundfish fishery is achieved through the application of the Fisheries Act, the Fishery (General) Regulations and the Atlantic Fishery Regulations by Fishery Officers as well as any variation orders made pursuant to the regulations. The following offers a general description of compliance activities carried out by C&P in the groundfish fishery.

8.3 Consultation

Shared stewardship and education are encouraged through emphasis on the importance of C&P communication with the community at large including:

8.4 Compliance Performance

In addition to other tasks, Fishery Officers are responsible for enforcing many commercial, recreational and aboriginal fisheries. Groundfish enforcement in the Gulf Region accounts for an average of approximately 2% of Fishery Officers’ time which is the equivalent of an average of approximately 1,625 hours/year. In some instances, the total time spent by Fishery Officers in the Gulf Region has risen closer to 2,600 hours in one year. For detachments where the level of groundfish activity is high in relation to other fisheries, more resources are dedicated to this fishery.

The compliance performance may be measured by a number of indicators, including:

8.5 Current Compliance Issues

There are some compliance deficiencies in the groundfish fishery. Most of the violations are associated to fishing during closed time, failure to return incidentally caught fish to the water, as well as fishing with unauthorized fishing gear and fishing without authorization.

Some C&P statistics indicate relatively infrequent convictions and low fine levels which do not make for an adequate deterrent. While C&P is prepared to seek higher impact penalties through targeted enforcement, court action is still costly in terms of officer time and money. Industry participants in this fishery have a huge role to play in achieving better compliance through closer cooperation with C&P as part of an effort to lower the tolerance of illegal activity.

8.6 Compliance Strategy

C&P has developed a Compliance and Enforcement Strategy that will provide front line Fishery Officers with the necessary guidance and direction. It will also serve as a reference in establishing operational priorities in the groundfish fishery.

Priorities will be to focus on management measures that are conservation-related. Fishery Officers’ efforts and energy will include activities such as conducting at sea and dockside inspections, verification of processing plants, grappling operations, overt and covert operations in support of detecting illegal activities associated to illegal fishing gear, size limits, etc.

In support of further developing an intelligence-based approach, efforts will be maintained towards increasing intelligence gathering and information sharing capacity. A close watch will also be maintained on the development of new technology; new approaches in order to provide front line Fishery Officers the opportunity to broaden their knowledge and increase their skills. This approach will also provide an opportunity to expand the inventory of specialized equipment.

9.Performance Review

The following indicators will be used to determine if the plan objectives as outlined in Section 5 are met.

Stock Conservation


Social, cultural, economic


10. Safety at Sea

Caution is exercised relative to the timing of the opening of the Southern Gulf groundfish fisheries. Season openings may be delayed until the risks posed by ice or weather are minimal and these decisions are taken in consultation with industry representatives. An area known as the “dumping ground” (a former munitions dump) is closed to mobile gear fishing.


Appendix A - Map of Groundfish Fishing Areas

The map above illustrates all the groundfish fishing areas in in 4RSTVn3Pn. In NAFO Division 4T, the groundfish fishing areas are: 4T1, 4T2a, 4T2b, 4T3a, 4T3b, 4T4, 4T5, 4T6, 4T7, 4T8, 4T9a and 4T9b. In NAFO 4S, the groundfish fishing areas are: 4S1, 4S2, 4S3, 4S4, 4S5. In NAFO Division 4T, the subdivisions are: 4Ra, 4Rb, 4Rc and 4Rd. In 4Vn, the groundfish fishing areas are: 4Vn1 and 4Vn2. The NAFO Division 3Pn is not further subdivided. Each contact points also have latitude north and longitude west coordinates illustrated on the right hand side of the map.

APPENDIX B - Fleet Shares

Fleet Shares* of Canadian Quota (%)
Stock FG <65' MG <65' FG 65'-100' MG 65'-100' All >100' Total
4RS,3Pn* 46.09 43.018 0.000 3.305 7.590 100.003
4T** 28.095 48.009 0.000 5.374 0.000 81.478
4Vn (N-A) 12.874 12.942 1.331 1.476 71.373 99.996
Unit 1 Index fishery only
American plaice
4T 14.800 80.200 0.000 5.000 0.000 100.000
Witch flounder
4RST 0.000 88.000 0.000 7.000 5.000 100.000
White hake
4T No directed fishery
Atlantic halibut
4RST 69.714 11.714 3.429 3.429 11.714 100.000
Winter flounder
4T 50.000 50.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 100.000
Yellowtail flounder
4T 100% Magdalen Islands, by-catch elsewhere
Greenland halibut
4RST 76.200 14.267**** 0.00 8.600**** 0.933**** 100.000
* All shares exclude those associated with the Licence Retirement Program (Bought Back Quota)
** the MG <65' share of 43.02% includes 1.54% for Danish Seiners.
*** The >100' (offshore quota) will be re-established to its share of 53.13% when the TAC increases to 3,500t.
**** the Greenland halibut MG fleets shares are currently not fished. Re-entry of MG fleets in this fishery will occur on a progressive scale once the 4RST TAC goes higher than 4,500t, as per a 2013 DFO decision.

The fleet shares table illustrates the shares in percentage for cod, redfish, American plaice, witch flounder, white hake, Atlantic Halibut, winter flounder, yellowtail flounder and Greenland halibut for each fleet. There are no columns for the species which is rather in a row and under each species, there is the stock area. At the right hand side of the stock, there is the fleet shares for the following fleets: Less than 65 feet fixed gear fleet, less than 65 feet mobile gear fleet, 65 feet to 100 feet fixed gear fleet, 65 feet to 100 feet mobile gear fleet and the over 100 feet fleet.

Appendix B-1

Description of Groups

Group A: all enterprises in the <65' category based in 4RS-3Pn

Group B: all enterprises in the <65' category based in 4T

Group C: all enterprises in the <65' category based in 4Vn

Appendix C

GROUP A 34.72% 2.217% 0%
GROUP B 5.257% 50% 45.68%
GROUP C 0% 2.842% 0%

The geographical fleet shares table illustrates in percentage the cod 4RS3Pn, the cod 4TVn and the American plaice shares for the individual transferable quota (ITQ) mobile gear fleet for Groups A, B and C.

88.0927 9.9594 1.9455 0 0 0 0 0
COD, 4T 33.8605 17.7338 15.3035 10.3687 7.3124 7.0861 6.5061 1.8286
AMERICAN PLAICE 4T 30.4217 8.3293 15.6414 11.5540 20.4142 2.6586 8.3709 2.6091

This table subdivide sthe geographical fleet share table but just for group B by indicating the fleet shares for each stock (cod 4RS3Pn, cod 4TVn and American plaice 4T) by province (Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island). It also indicates the percentage of the bought back quota.


This table indicates, by DFO region, the shares of each of the 4RST Atlantic halibut fixed gear fleet: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Quebec North Shore, Gaspé Peninsula, Magdalen Islands, Newfoundland & Labrador and Maritimes. Il y a un sous-total pour chaque region.


This table indicates, by DFO region, the 4TVn cod shares in percentage for the less than 65 feet fixed gear competitive fleets which are New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Quebec North Shore, Gaspé Peninsula, Magdalen Islands, Newfoundland & Labrador and Maritimes. There is a subtotal for each region.

Appendix D

Groundfish Species Landed Volume and Value
Gulf of St. Lawrence Management Area
2005-2012 Seasons
Species Cod Atlantic halibut Witch flounder Greenland halibut Winter flounder American plaice White hake Redfish Yellowtail flounder
Southern Gulf Northern Gulf
NAFO Zone 4T - 4Vn* 4RS3Pn 4RST 4RST 4RST 4T 4T 4T 4RST, 3Pn - 4Vn
(Unit 1)
Volume (MT)
2005 2,826 4,476 410 935 4,048 394 338 44 975 186
2006 3,145 5,640 388 944 3,868 235 476 27 694 176
2007 1,457 6,475 439 914 3,918 171 368 20 106 123
2008 1,556 6,157 595 762 3,758 218 173 31 420 102
2009 148 4,695 640 443 4,253 240 126 33 635 120
2010 113 3,566 683 240 3,954 307 148 19 549 188
2011 150 1,774 739 453 3,855 318 97 18 630 168
Value ($000)
2005 3,363 4,588 2,578 930 8,436 399 271 32 663 157
2006 4,198 6,359 2,542 1,007 6,761 255 632 19 540 189
2007 2,087 9,495 2,857 962 7,146 206 323 16 86 144
2008 2,198 9,341 3,752 729 7,116 318 156 21 343 133
2009 206 4,968 4,210 443 8,233 327 153 25 422 168
2010 162 3,640 4,835 192 8,504 462 163 14 378 301
2011 238 2,047 5,920 409 10,412 574 145 15 547 311
Data for fishing season (i.e. 2009 = May 15 2009 – May 14 2010)
* November - April
Source: Statistics, DFO-Ottawa

This table indicates the cod, Atlantic halibut, witch flounder, Greenland halibut, winter flounder, American plaice, white hake, redfish and yellowtail flounder landings in volume (metric tonnes) and in landing value (in thousands) from 2005 to 2011.

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