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Whelk (Buccinum undatum) Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) Subdivision 3Ps Newfoundland and Labrador Region

(Buccinum undatum)


The purpose of this Integrated Fisheries Management Plan  is to identify the main objectives and requirements for the Newfoundland and Labrador Region whelk fishery in NAFO Subdivision 3Ps, as well as the management measures that will be used to achieve these objectives. This document also serves to communicate basic information on the fishery and its management to Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) staff, legislated co-management boards and committees, and other stakeholders. This Integrated Fisheries Management Plan provides a common understanding of the basic “rules” for the sustainable management of the fisheries resource.

This Integrated Fisheries Management Plan is not a legally binding instrument which can form the basis of a legal challenge. The Integrated Fisheries Management Plan  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 Integrated Fisheries Management Plan in accordance with the powers granted pursuant to the Fisheries Act.

Where DFO is responsible for implementing obligations under land claims agreements, the Integrated Fisheries Management Plan  will be implemented in a manner consistent with these obligations. In the event that an Integrated Fisheries Management Plan is inconsistent with obligations under land claim agreements, the provisions of land claims agreements will prevail to the extent of the inconsistency.

As with any policy, the Minister retains the discretion to make exceptions to, or to change, this policy at any time. It is, however, DFO’s expectation and intention to follow the management process set out in this Integrated Fisheries Management Plan, with a view to contributing to increased certainty and direction for the whelk fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador.

This 3Ps whelk Integrated Fisheries Management Plan will be in effect until it is replaced. While the elements of this plan will remain in effect, management measures are subject to annual review and may be adjusted based on updated Science information. This could include changes to the Total Allowable Catch, as well as adjustments to annexes and website listings. 

Jacqueline Perry
Regional Director General
Newfoundland and Labrador Region

Table of contents

1. Overview of the fishery

1.1 History of the fishery

The commercial fishery for the Common Northern or Waved whelk (Buccinum undatum) began in Newfoundland and Labrador in 1986. Initially, the fishery was restricted to localized inshore areas in southern Labrador and insular Newfoundland with whelks supporting short-term pulse fisheries that waxed and waned due to market demand and resource availability.

In 1986, after some success was observed in the Quebec commercial whelk fishery, the Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) conducted a preliminary review of harvesting and processing operations in Quebec and provided the information to the Newfoundland industry. In 1987, the Fisheries Development Branch of DFO conducted the first commercial fishing trials in St. Lunaire, St. Anthony, Lumsden, Bonavista Bay, and Little Bay Islands. Though the trials yielded viable catch rates and marketable sized whelks, low market prices combined with a strong traditional groundfish fishery deterred industry from developing a commercial whelk fishery until several years later.

In 1991 and 1992, the Labrador Fishermen’s Union Shrimp Company  with assistance from the Canada/Newfoundland Inshore Fisheries Development Agreement  attempted to establish a whelk fishery in southern Labrador in the L’Anse au Clair to Red Bay areas. Approximately 60,000 lbs (27.2 metric tonnes ) was landed in 1991 and 100,000 lbs (45.4 metric tonnes ) in 1992 which were processed by the Labrador Fishermen’s Union Shrimp Company ) in Forteau. In the mid 1990s, experimental whelk fishing activities were carried out in Conception Bay, Notre Dame Bay, Bonavista Bay, and St. Mary’s Bay. A small number of fishers continued to direct for whelks, but despite these efforts industry remained focused on more profitable fisheries.

In the early 2000s the fishery in NAFO Subdivision 3Ps developed and expanded rapidly. From 2002 to 2005, total landings ranged from 150 metric tonnes  to 1,610 metric tonnes ; from 2006 to 2010, total landings ranged from 3,741 metric tonnes to 5,251 metric tonnes . Landings peaked in 2011 at 5,814 metric tonnes  and have since steadily declined to a low 111 metric tonnes in 2018. Landings remained in the lower range in the 2019 season. A Total Allowable Catch  of 5,000 metric tonnes  for the 3Ps whelk fishery was established prior to the  2009 season and remains in place to this day.

1.2 Type of fishery

The 3Ps whelk fishery is primarily a competitive fishery with an Indigenous (Food, Social and Ceremonial) component. 

1.3 Participants

This fishery is opened to all independent core fishers in Newfoundland and Labrador. Fishers are authorized to harvest whelks in the NAFO division of their homeport. As of 2019, there are 307 commercial whelk licences in NAFO Subdivision 3Ps; however, in recent years the actual amount of fishers landing whelks has declined along with amount landed. When landings peaked in 2011, 62 fishers participated; from 2012 to 2017 licences with actual whelk landings declined steadily from 77 to 21; and only 6 fishers landed whelks in 2019.

Presently in 3Ps, the Miawpukek First Nation  hold 12 commercial communal licences for whelk, as well as a Food, Social and Ceremonial  licence which includes whelk. The Mi'kmaq Alsumk Mowimsikik Koqoey Association  also hold a commercial communal licence for whelk within NAFO 3Ps.

1.4 Location of the fishery

A commercial whelk fishery takes place in NAFO Subdivision 3Ps on the south coast of the island of Newfoundland. The fishery is currently concentrated in 3 distinct offshore areas (not DFO management areas) commonly known as the North, West, and South grounds. It should be noted that portions of the North and West block overlap with the Laurentian Channel Marine Protected Area , and therefore, harvesting in these portions is prohibited. For more information on the Laurentian Channel Marine Protected Area , please see Section 4.5. Fishing is prohibited in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Saint Pierre and Miquelon.

For details, refer to the preceding paragraph.

Figure 1: Three main areas in 3Ps where whelk are harvested.

1.5 Fishery characteristics

The 3Ps commerical whelk fishery is a competitive fishery with a total allowable catch of 5,000 metric tonnes. The fishery is prosecuted using long-line fleets of baited traps at depths ranging from 45 to 60 metres .

By condition of licence, each enterprise is permitted to fish up to 500 traps with no restriction on mesh size. The minimum legal size of whelks that may be landed is 63 millimetres shell height. There is no biological basis for this size limit, rather, it is determined by industry requirements. Sorting of undersized whelks must be done on the fishing grounds. Fishers are prohibited from retaining "ten-ridged" whelks (Neptunea decemcostata).

Season opening and closing dates may fluctuate in consultation with industry, as do whelk fishing seasons in other NAFO divisions, but generally the season begins in May and ends in December.

1.6 Governance

The 3Ps whelk fishery is governed by the Fisheries Act, regulations made pursuant to the Act, and departmental policies. The key regulations and policies that apply include, but are not limited to:

The Fisheries Licensing Policy of Newfoundland and Labrador Region provides details on the various licensing policies that govern the commercial fishing industry in the Newfoundland and Labrador  Region.DFO  should be consulted for all purposes of interpreting and applying this document.

Advisory meetings are held periodically to provide a forum to discuss issues with stakeholders and Indigenous groups related to the management of the fishery. The purpose of the advisory meetings are to seek input and advice from stakeholders to inform the sustainable use of the resource. Stakeholders seeking new management measures are required to table their requests at the next scheduled DFO advisory meeting. Changes to management measures may also be tabled by DFO officials at the advisory meeting.

1.7 Approval process

This Integrated Fisheries Management Plan for the Newfoundland and Labrador  Region whelk fishery in NAFO Subdivision 3Ps is approved by the Regional Director General, Newfoundland and Labrador.  

Unless there are conservation issues, the intent is to manage the fishery based on the measures outlined in this Integrated Fisheries Management Plan .  

2. Stock assessment, science and traditional knowledge

2.1 Biological characteristics

The Waved whelk is a boreal neogastropod of the Atlantic Ocean. In the Northwest Atlantic it is found from New Jersey to Labrador. It is a relatively large and long-lived gastropod that reaches up to 120 millimetres  in shell height and more than10 years of age. It is more active in colder water and tolerates salinities down to approximately 20 parts per trillion. It is found at depths of more than 100 metres and on various types of substrates (boulders, cobbles, mud), but occurs in greatest densities on soft bottoms at 15 to 30 metres depth.

The Waved whelk has a large muscular foot which it uses to crawl over the seafloor. It has been reported to crawl to baited traps at speeds of 7 to15 centimetres per minute and from distances of 20 to 30 metres. Detection and localization of food is likely via chemotaxis and a specialized organ in the whelk’s mantle cavity, the osphradium. Whelks appear to have a broad diet and varied means of acquiring food. They feed on live and dead animal tissues using a long eversible proboscis, which is an extension of the digestive system. Although whelks can move around, they spend much of their time stationary on the bottom or buried in the sediments, sometimes with only the siphon protruding.

This species is dioecious (separate sexes) and fertilization is internal. Whelks are polygamous; females store sperm from many males. Sexual maturation is relatively slow with maturity probably reached at 4 to 7 years of age depending on gender and location. Females mature at an older age and larger size than males. Females lay their embryos inside capsules which they attach to hard structures such as rock, and many females can contribute eggs to the same egg mass. Embryos undergo complete (direct) development within 3 to 8 months before emerging as crawling whelks. Larger females lay a greater number of capsules than smaller ones, but the number of embryos per capsule (~2500 to 3000) seems independent of female size. Less than 1% of embryos likely survive in nature, mainly because many serve as nurse eggs for earlier-developing individuals and also because other animals, particularly sea urchins, prey upon them. In the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence, copulation and egg deposition occur in spring and summer with juveniles emerging from capsules in late autumn and winter, while in Europe, copulation and egg-laying occur in autumn. The period for mating and egg laying in 3Ps is unknown. Adult whelks are reported to feed less during mating and egg-laying than at other times.

Because of its seemingly high ‘catchability’ (attraction to baited traps), low reproductive rate, and limited dispersal (both as larvae and adults), this species is thought to be susceptible to localized over-exploitation, and has been extirpated in some areas of its range. Populations are isolated due to the absence of a pelagic larval stage and limited movement of adults. Not surprisingly, whelk populations display marked variation in different phenotypic traits such as size at sexual maturity, shell morphology, as well as feeding and anti-predator behaviours, over relatively short distances (tens to hundreds of kilometres). Susceptibility to local extinctions and high potential for local adaptation suggest micromanagement of commercially exploited whelk populations may be desirable, for both economic and conservation purposes.

2.2 Ecosystem interactions

The key predators of whelks include sea stars, arthropods (crabs and lobsters), and fishes for example, wolf eels.

2.3 Indigenous traditional knowledge

Indigenous traditional knowledge and traditional ecological knowledge in the form of observations and comments from Indigenous groups are considered in science processes and management decisions when provided.

2.4 Stock assessment process

There has not been a stock assessment for whelks in 3Ps since 2013, which assessed fishery landings, catch per unit effort , and distribution, as well as a preliminary investigation into size at maturity of males. There is no directed survey for whelks in 3Ps, therefore, estimates of abundance or biomass are not available.

2.5 Stock assessment results

A Regional Advisory Process  was convened in 2011 and 2013 to update the available information on whelks with emphasis on the size at which sexual maturity is attained. Participants included DFO Scientists, DFO Resource Managers, representatives from industry, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, and Memorial University.

The 2013 assessment of whelks in 3Ps assessed fisheries data from 2004 to 2011. Landings peaked in 2008 and 2011 and the catch per unit effort  gradually increased over the assessed time period. Distribution of fishing effort expanded slightly from 2004 to 2011, but remained within the 3 whelk fishing areas; North, West and South grounds. Preliminary work on male size at maturity determined the male size at 50% maturity to be 62 millimetres; however, caution is advised as there was uncertainty around the estimates due to broad confidence intervals around the logistic regression model.

2.6 Precautionary approach

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 or fail to take action to avoid serious harm to fish stocks or their ecosystems. 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:

Currently there is no Precautionary Approach Framework for whelk, and limit reference points or other removal reference points have not been established. In the coming years the department will be undertaking work to establish a Precautionary Approach Framework for all its commercial fisheries, including 3Ps whelk.

2.7 Research

A primary goal of the DFO Science branch is to provide high quality knowledge, products and scientific advice on Canadian aquatic ecosystems and living resources, with a vision of safe, healthy, productive waters and aquatic ecosystems. DFO conducts research activities both independently and in collaboration with other organizations.

Current research on whelks focuses on age determination using statoliths.

3. Economic, social, and cultural importance of the fishery

3.1 Socio-economic profile

Over the 2005 to2019 period, whelk landings and landed value in NAFO Division 3Ps peaked in 2011 at approximately 5,800 tonnes and $7.5 million. Thereafter, landings and landed value declined to a low of approximately 110 tonnes and $300,000 in 2018.  2019 had a slight increase in landings and value compared to 2018 (Figure 2).

For details, refer to the preceding paragraph.

Figure 2: Whelk Landings and Landed Value in NAFO Division 3Ps, 2005-2019.

Figure 2: whelk landings and landed value in the Newfoundland and Labrador Region, 2005 to 2019
Year Landings (t) Landed Value (Millions $)
2005 1.61 $1.74
2006 3.74 $3.71
2007 3.73 $3.59
2008 5.78 $6.40
2009 4.88 $4.31
2010 5.25 $4.63
2011 5.81 $7.52
2012 4.63 $6.61
2013 4.21 $5.97
2014 2.15 $3.68
2015 2.29 $4.58
2016 1.48 $3.11
2017 0.58 $1.24
2018 0.11 $0.30
2019 (p) 0.20 $0.59

The number of active enterprises homeported in NAFO Division 3Ps having whelk landings fluctuated between 2005 and 2019.  As indicated in Figure 3, below, the lowest number of enterprises was 6 in 2019, while the highest was 77 in 2012.  

For details, refer to the preceding paragraph.

Figure 3: Number of Active Enterprises with Whelk Landings in NAFO Division 3Ps, 2005-2019.

Figure 3: Number of active enterprises with whelk landings in 3Ps, 2005 to 2019
Year Number of Active Enterprises
2005 33
2006 57
2007 55
2008 66
2009 61
2010 59
2011 62
2012 76
2013 67
2014 46
2015 43
2016 47
2017 21
2018 7
2019 (p) 5

In 2019, there were six 3Ps-based fishing enterprises with whelk landings. On average, for these enterprises, whelk accounted for about 15% of their average total fishing revenue (all species). The average total fishing revenue of these enterprises also included snow crab (57%), sea cucumber (19%), pelagics (mainly herring, 4%) and groundfish (mainly cod 3%, halibut 2%).

The average landed price per pound for whelk in the Newfoundland and Labrador  Region generally increased between 2005 and 2019, ranging from a low of approximately $0.40 in 2009 and 2010 to a high of about $1.32 in 2019 (Figure 4). 

For details, refer to the preceding paragraph.

Figure 4: Average Landed Price per Pound for Whelk, Newfoundland and Labrador Region, 2005-2019.

Figure 4 : Le prix moyen au débarquement par livre du buccin dans la région de Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador, 2005 à 2019
Year Average price per pound
2005 $0.49
2006 $0.45
2007 $0.44
2008 $0.50
2009 $0.40
2010 $0.40
2011 $0.59
2012 $0.65
2013 $0.64
2014 $0.78
2015 $0.91
2016 $0.96
2017 $0.96
2018 $1.23
2019 (p) $1.32

4. Management issues

4.1 Scientific uncertainty

There is limited science information on whelks in Newfoundland and Labrador related to sustainable exploitation rates, mortality, and the impact of fishery on benthic ecosystems.

4.2 Habitat considerations

DFO seeks to conserve and protect fish habitat that supports Canada’s fisheries resource through application of the fisheries protection provisions of the Fisheries Act. A key provision of the Fisheries Act is subsection 35 which prohibits the carrying on of a work, undertaking or activity that results in serious harm to fish that are part of or support a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery without an authorization from the Minister.

The Fish and Fish Habitat Protection Program  provides advice to proponents to enable them to proactively avoid and mitigate the effects of projects on fish and fish habitat, undertakes the review of proposed works, undertakings and activities that may affect fish and fish habitat, and ensures compliance with the Fisheries Act and the Species at Risk Act by issuing Authorizations and Letters of Advice, when appropriate, with conditions for offsetting, monitoring, and reporting.

4.3 Aquatic invasive species

The presence of 7 aquatic invasive species  have been identified in various parts of Newfoundland and Labrador  coastal waters. These include European green crab, 3 species of tunicates (vase, goldenstar, and violet), coffin box bryozoan, Japanese skeleton shrimp, and oyster thief. In 3Ps specifically, these species are present in parts of the coastal regions, but not throughout. Several of these species can be detrimental to commercial fish and fish habitat as they can displace kelp beds and seagrasses, and potentially cause other negative effects. Because the species are not distributed throughout Newfoundland and Labrador  coastal areas, it is extremely important to prevent their spread within 3Ps and to other NAFO divisions.

Best practices to prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species  include:

More information about aquatic invasive species in the Newfoundland and Labrador Region can be found on the Aquatic Invasive Species website. Presence/absence maps of species in Newfoundland and Labrador  can be found on this website under ‘Identify an aquatic invasive species’.

4.4 International issues

The United States (US) is implementing the import provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act following court direction. The import rule is regarding regulations for reducing marine mammal incidental mortality and serious injury in commercial fisheries. Countries importing fish and fish products to the US will be required to demonstrate that there are comparable fisheries regulations in place to reduce these impacts. Countries who fail to obtain such comparability measures to the US for their export fisheries by January 1, 2022, will be prohibited from entering the US market.

4.5 Initiatives in marine conservation

In August 2019, the Government of Canada surpassed its milestone of protecting 10% of Canada’s marine and coastal areas by 2020, a target which is a reflection of Canada’s United Nation Convention on Biological Diversity Aichi Targets commitments, collectively referred to as Canada’s marine conservation targets. The Government of Canada further committed domestically to protecting 25% by 2025, and working towards 30% by 2030. 

To meet our marine conservation targets, Canada is establishing Marine Protected Areas and other effective area-based conservation measures (Other Measures), in consultation with industry, non-governmental organizations, and other interested parties.

Most of the marine conservation areas established to date around Newfoundland and Labrador , such as the Laurentian Channel Marine Protected Area  which is mostly located in 3Ps (all commercial fishing is prohibited in this area) and the Division 3O Coral Closure Marine Refuge (in which all bottom fishing activities are prohibited) are in offshore areas where whelk fishing does not occur (see Figure 5).  Inshore, there are 2 Marine Protected Areas  in the Newfoundland and Labrador  Region in which commercial fishing, including for whelk, is prohibited: the Gilbert Bay Marine Protected Area and the Eastport Marine Protected Area.  However, both these areas are outside the NAFO Subdivision 3Ps whelk fishery. Other protected areas may be established in the future.

For details, refer to the preceding paragraph.

Figure 5: NL Region Marine Conservation Areas.

5. Objectives

DFO strives to manage the whelk fishery based on the principles of stock conservation and sustainable harvest, ecosystem health and sustainability, and stewardship. Using the following short and long-term objectives as guideposts, various management measures have been implemented or are being developed that will maximize the benefit of this resource.

5.1 Conservation and sustainable harvest

Conservation and the long-term sustainability of the whelk stock is an important objective for DFO. The department seeks to provide benefits for all stakeholders in the short and long-term. DFO will work with all stakeholders to achieve this objective, and aims to sustain a whelk stock that supports an economically viable and self-reliant fishery. Specifically:

5.2 Ecosystem health and sustainability

Ecosystem health is essential for effective fisheries management. The sustainability of whelk within the food web as both a prey and a predator species will strengthen the long-term health of the ecosystem. Ongoing ecosystem-based research and science advice helps to inform the sustainable management of the whelk fishery by:

6. Access and allocation

The Minister can, for reasons of conservation or for any other any other valid reasons, modify access, allocations and sharing arrangements outlined in this Integrated Fisheries Management Plan  in accordance with the powers granted pursuant to the Fisheries Act.

The 3Ps whelk fishery is a competitive fishery that is managed by a Total Allowable Catch .  There are currently 332 commercial licences issued for 3Ps whelk and no new licences available. Licence reissurance is possible but limited to inshore licence holders with a homeport based in the fishing area of the licence.

6.1 Communal commercial fisheries

Indigenous fishing policy in Canada is guided by a vision of supporting healthy and prosperous Indigenous communities through:

As per the Principles respecting the Government of Canada's relationship with Indigenous peoples, the Government of Canada is committed to achieving reconciliation with Indigenous peoples through a renewed, nation-to-nation, government-to-government, and Inuit-Crown relationship based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership as the foundation for transformative change.

DFO supports the participation of adjacent Indigenous organizations in commercial fisheries. The Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy Program  is designed to encourage Indigenous involvement in commercial fisheries and related economic opportunities.

A subsequent program, Aboriginal Aquatic Resource and Oceans Management (AAROM) Program, was designed for Indigenous groups to collaboratively develop capacity and expertise to facilitate their participation in aquatic resource and oceans management.

All communal commercial licences issued to Indigenous organizations are done so under the authority of the Aboriginal Communal Fishing Licenses Regulations.

The Miawpukek First Nation has access to the 3Ps commercial whelk fishery, they currently hold 12 communal commercial whelk licences in 3Ps. Mi'kmaq Alsumk Mowimsikik Koqoey Association  also holds a communal commercial whelk licence.

6.2 Licensing

There are no new licences available for 3Ps whelk and this is a limited entry fishery. Only fish harvesters who held a licence in the previous year will be eligible for renewal of that licence in the the current year. However, an eligible fish harvester can acquire a whelk licence by receiving one through reissuance from an existing licence holder.

The recipient of a commercial whelk licence must be a resident of, or have a homeport in, the NAFO Division of the licence. Reissuance of a licence is permitted between:

7. Management measures for the duration of the plan

7.1 Total allowable catch

The 3Ps commercial whelk fishery is a competitive fishery that is managed by a Total Allowable Catch of 5,000 metric tonnes.

7.2 Possession size

The minimum possession size of whelks is 63 millimetres  in length. Length in relation to whelks means the distance measured in a straight line through the longest part of the shell. 

7.3 Fishing seasons

Season dates are established according to Lobster Fishing Area  and with input from fish harvesters, but generally begin in May and end in December.

7.4 Fishing area

Fishing for whelks is authorized by Lobster Fishing Area . Licence holders are authorized to harvest whelk in the NAFO division of their homeport. There are a total of 17 Lobster Fishing Areas in the Newfoundland and Labrador  Region (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13A, 13B, 14A, 14B, 14C); 2 of which fall within Subdivision 3Ps (LFAs 10 and 11). Appendix 2 provides a map of whelk fishing areas.

7.5 Fishing gear

Each fisher is authorized to use a maximum of 500 whelk traps. There is currently no restriction on trap or mesh size for whelk fishing gear in the Newfoundland and Labrador Region.

7.6 At-sea observer program

The At–Sea Observer Program was designed to collect independent fisheries data for science, resource management and compliance and deterrence purposes. This important component of fishery management provides information and an at-sea presence while fisheries are on-going. At-Sea Observers  observe, record and report detailed biological and fishery data, such as fishing effort and all catch data, fishing gear type, and fishing location. 

The fishing industry will be responsible for the payment of fees to cover at-sea observer coverage. Fishers will be required to carry at-sea observers at the request of DFO.  Licence conditions are not valid unless a letter of arrangement from the observer company is attached confirming payment of observer fees. All harvesters will contribute to the overall observer coverage for the whelk fishery. The At-Sea Observers  requirement is managed as a condition of licence.

7.7 Logbooks

Completing a logbook is mandatory under Section 61 of the Fisheries Act. Fish harvesters are required to record information about fishing catch and effort, and submit this data as specified in the conditions of licence. Logbooks can be obtained from an approved logbook supplier.

Information that should be in a logbook includes location, date, time, sets, gear type, weight of fish caught and by-catch. Licence holders are required to report in their logbook any interaction with Northern wolffish, Spotted wolffish or Leatherback sea turtle. In 2018, marine mammal mitigation measures became mandatory and all interactions must be reported. It is also mandatory to report any lost fishing gear to the nearest DFO office within 24 hours of landing.

Information must be included on anything else the harvester think may be useful to DFO. Failure to submit a logbook may result in enforcement action.

7.8 Vessel monitoring system

As a means to ensure compliance with regulations regarding the area fished, mandatory use of the electronic vessel monitoring system  was implemented in 2013.  All vessels directing for whelks are required to have an automatic location and communication  device that will transmit the vessel’s position to DFO. By using a vessel monitoring system  in the fishery there will be more accurate, complete and detailed statistical information on the location and timing of fishing activity for DFO Science and Resource Management; and improved compliance for restricted areas and more efficient deployments of Conservation and Protection  resources. Fish harvesters are responsible for covering the cost of the automatic location and communication  device, its installation on-board their vessel, and the cost of operations. The vessel monitoring system  requirement is a condition of licence.

7.9 Dockside monitoring program

The objective of the Dockside Monitoring Program  is to provide the department accurate, timely, and independent third party verification of landings and it helps ensure the total allowable catch  is not exceeded. The Dockside Monitoring Program  constitutes one of the primary sources of landing information on which the management of the fishery is based.  The fishing industry and the department are therefore dependent on the accurate verification of landings by Dockside Monitoring Corporations.    

All licence holders are required to have all whelk landings weighed and dockside monitored and all Dockside Monitoring Program  costs are the responsibility of individual fish harvesters or fishing fleets.  It is also the responsibility of license holders to ensure that monitors who oversee the offloading of catches are certified by DFO. The dockside monitoring requirement is managed as a condition of licence.

7.10 Species at risk

In accordance with the recovery strategies for the Northern Wolffish (Anarchichas denticulatus), Spotted Wolffish (Anarchichas minor), and Leatherback Sea Turtle (dermochelys coriacea), the licence holder is permitted to carry out commercial fishing activities authorized under the Fisheries Act that may incidentally kill, harm, harass, capture or take the Northern Wolffish and/or Spotted Wolffish as per subsection 83(4) of theSpecies at Risk Act. The licence holder is also permitted to carry out commercial fishing activities authorized under the Fisheries Act that are known to incidentally capture Leatherback Sea Turtles.

Licence holders are required to return Northern Wolffish, Spotted Wolffish or Leatherback Sea Turtle to the place from which it was taken, and where it is alive, in a manner that causes the least harm.

Licence holders are required to report in their logbook any interaction with Northern Wolffish, Spotted Wolffish or Leatherback Sea Turtles.

8. Shared stewardship arrangements

There are no formal shared stewardship arrangements in the whelk fishery. However, as noted throughout the Integrated Fisheries Management Plan, DFO officials work closely with the harvesting and processing sectors in all aspects of fisheries management, science, and conservation and protection.

9. Compliance plan

9.1 Current compliance issues

Compliance issues in this fishery include:

9.2 Program description

The deployment of Conservation and Protection  resources in the fishery is conducted in accordance with management plan objectives, as well as in response to emerging issues. The mix of enforcement options available and over-riding conservation objectives determine the level and type of enforcement activity. 

Work plans at the regional, area and detachment levels are designed to establish priorities based on management objectives and conservation concerns. The monitoring and evaluation elements of enforcement work plans facilitate in-season adjustments should conservation concerns and/or significant occurrences of non-compliance emerge.

9.3 Compliance performance

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. Specifically through the following Pillars:

Pillar 1: Education and shared stewardship

Conservation and Protection officers actively participate in consultation processes with the fishing industry and Indigenous groups to address compliance issues. Informal meetings with stakeholders also occur on an ad-hoc basis to resolve in-season matters, in addition to regular interaction with fish harvesters. The consultative process may include Conservation and Protection membership on area integrated management planning committees, which are comprised of fish harvesters, representatives from the provincial and federal governments, and other community groups with an interest in fishery conservation issues.

Fishery officers also visit local schools and educational institutions to present and discuss fisheries conservation issues and use this information as part of the Conservation and Protection planning process.

Pillar 2: Monitoring, control, and surveillance

Conservation and Protection promotes compliance with management measures governing the fishery through:

  • routine patrols
  • dockside inspections
  • at-sea inspections
  • aerial surveillance
  • Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) review
  • at-sea observer deployments
  • National Fisheries Intelligence Service (NFIS)

Patrols by vehicle, vessel and fixed-wing aircraft are conducted in accordance with operational plans which are developed based on available intelligence.

Each Conservation and Protection  detachment ensures that monitoring and inspections of fish landing activity are carried out on a routine basis. Where a vessel is selected for comprehensive inspection, Conservation and Protection  ensures that catch composition, weight verification and size variation sampling is conducted. Conservation and Protection also ensures that surveillance flights are conducted on a routine basis. 

The vessel monitoring system   provides real-time data on the location of vessels within portions of this fleet. Conservation and Protection  uses this resource to help determine where the enterprise is fishing, the port of destination and the estimated time of arrival to port. Vessel monitoring system  data will also be relied upon for future analysis and comparisons of fishing activity.  

At-sea observers are randomly deployed to observe, record and report aspects of the fishing activity. The resulting data is used to compare catch composition of vessels on observed trips versus non-observed trips. When it is applicable to the fishery, Conservation and Protection  also reviews quota monitoring reports to ensure individual quotas are not exceeded.

Conservation and Protection  supplies best-known available local information to the National Fisheries Intelligence Service for processing and uses this intelligence to combat all types of illegal fishing activity. 

Conservation and Protection  conducts post-season analysis sessions to review issues encountered during the previous season and to make recommendations on improving management measures. The initial sessions are conducted at the area level, followed by a regional session with other DFO sectors.

Pillar 3: Major case

Conservation and Protection recognizes the need to focus attention on high-risk illegal activities that pose significant threat to the achievement of conservation objectives, which usually cannot be addressed through education or routine monitoring. Some individuals, usually motivated by financial gain, persist through various complex and well-coordinated means in hiding illegal activities which put Canada’s aquatic resources at risk. 

Conservation and Protection  will focus on high-risk illegal activities that pose significant conservation threats. Detailed analysis of licence holders and possibly companies will be completed using:

Targeting of high risk violators and / or processing facilities will be also be a primary focus should intelligence gathered warrant such action.  Any resulting operations will be conducted in conjunction with National Fisheries Intelligence Service staff, additional field staff and area resources as required.

9.4 Compliance strategy

Conservation and Protection  has developed an operational plan that outlines monitoring and compliance activities that will be carried out by Conservation and Protection  personnel in all management areas. The plan provides guidance for Conservation and Protection , promotes effective monitoring of the fishery, and enables Conservation and Protection  personnel to effectively maintain compliance with management measures governing this fishery. The objective of the plan is to collect information for ensuring compliance and conducting investigations.

Sources of information used by Conservation and Protection to fulfil this objective include:

  • National Fisheries Intelligence Service
  • vessel positioning data
  • officer inspection data
  • fishing logs
  • Dockside Monitoring Program  records
  • at-sea observer records
  • purchase transactions

10. Performance review

A review of the objectives during the planning cycle is an integral part of assessing the performance of the fishery. For fisheries management, the advisory meeting with industry is a formal setting to review both short and long-term objectives. In addition to these formal reviews, DFO officials and industry representatives have an on-going dialogue on the fishery on a year-round basis. These informal discussions provide opportunities to review objectives and identify issues for discussion at the advisory meeting.

The most recent whelk fishery advisory meeting was held in 2013. The next whelk fishery advisory is to be determined.

DFO Newfoundland and Labrador  Region completes an annual internal post-season review with participation from Resource Management, Conservation and Protection, and Science staff. Regional headquarters and area-based staff participate in this process to identify local, area and regional fishery performance issues. DFO undertakes every effort to outline steps to address the issues, including assigning responsibility and setting timelines for completion. Those items not resolved during the post-season review are carried forward to the following year to be addressed.

The Performance Review outlines the activities and controls that are used in achieving fisheries management objectives. Table 1 identifies the specific strategies that are used to achieve fisheries management objectives.

Table 1. Measurable objectives/Activities and fisheries management strategies
Objectives Fisheries management strategies
Conservation and sustainable harvest
To conserve the whelk resource to provide commercial sustainability to fish harvesters
  • fishing season
  • quota monitoring
  • limited Access
To mitigate the impacts on other species, habitat and the ecosystem where whelk fishing occurs, protecting biodiversity and ecosystem structure and function
  • closed areas
  • prohibit the use of monofilament netting material
To promote the development of sustainable fishing practices
  • minimum size possession limit
To employ effective monitoring and surveillance tools and mechanisms that ensure compliance with conservation measures and provide scientists with appropriate information and basic data required to manage the whelk fishery
  • adequate level of at-sea observer coverage.
Benefits to stakeholders
To promote the continued development of a commercially viable and self-sustaining fishery
  • consult with stakeholders and provide available stock assessment and fisheries data.
  • monitor activity within the fishery.
To provide fish harvesters with increased opportunity to develop long-term business stability
  • evergreen management plans with opportunities to make recommendations
To promote a co-management approach, providing stakeholders with an effective sharing of responsibility, accountability and decision making, within the constraints of the Fisheries Act
  • establish an effective consultative process for stakeholders to participate in the decision-making process
  • organize and participate advisory meetings
  • improve management of fishery through co-management

DFO measures the performance of the fisheries that it manages through the Sustainability Survey for Fisheries. The survey is published every year and currently includes 177 fish stocks, with more added each year. The fish stocks were selected because of their economic or cultural importance; they represent the majority of total catch of fisheries managed by DFO.

The Sustainability Survey for Fisheries reports on the status of each fish stock and DFO’s progress to implement its Sustainable Fisheries Framework policies, a set of national policies to guide the sustainable management of Canada’s fisheries. This survey includes the commercial whelk fishery.

11. Glossary of terms

Abundance: number of individuals in a stock or a population

Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS): Aquatic invasive species are fish, invertebrate or plant species that have been introduced into a new aquatic environment, outside of their natural range.

Once introduced, aquatic invasive species populations can grow quickly because they don’t have natural predators in their new environment. As a result, they can outcompete and harm native species. They can even alter habitats to make them inhospitable for the native species. This is especially concerning for species at risk.

Area/Subarea: an area defined by the Convention on Future Multilateral Cooperation in the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries by NAFO, and as described in the Atlantic Fishery Regulations, 1985

Biomass: total weight of all individuals in a stock or a population

By-catch: the unintentional catch of one species when the target is another species

Catch per Unit Effort (CPUE): the amount caught for a given fishing effort, for example, tonnes of shrimp per tow or kilograms of fish per hundred longline hooks

Communal Commercial Licence: licence issued to Aboriginal organizations pursuant to the Aboriginal Communal Fishing Licences Regulations for participation in the general commercial fishery

Dockside Monitoring Program (DMP): A monitoring program conducted by a company that has been designated by DFO to verify the species composition and landed weight of all fish landed from a commercial fishing vessel

Fishing Effort: quantity of effort using a given fishing gear over a given period of time

Food, Social and Ceremonial (FSC): a fishery conducted by Aboriginal groups for food, social and ceremonial purposes

Groundfish: species of fish living near the bottom such as cod, haddock, halibut and flatfish

Landings: quantity of a species caught and landed

Observer Coverage:  carrying a certified at-sea observer onboard a fishing vessel for a specific period of time to verify the amount of fish caught, the area in which it was caught and the method by which it was caught

Pelagic: fish that lives in the water column or close to the surface

Population: group of individuals of the same species, forming a breeding unit, and sharing a habitat

Precautionary Approach: set of agreed cost-effective measures and actions, including future courses of action, which ensures prudent foresight, reduces or avoids risk to the resource, the environment, and the people, to the extent possible, taking explicitly into account existing uncertainties and the potential consequences of being wrong

Quota: portion of the Total Allowable Catch that a fleet, vessel class, association, country, etc. is permitted to take from a stock in a given period of time

Species at Risk Act (SARA):  a federal law enabling the Government to take action to prevent wildlife species from becoming extinct and secure the necessary actions for their recovery.  It provides the legal protection of wildlife species and the conservation of their biological diversity.

Spawning Stock: sexually mature individuals in a stock

Stock: a population of individuals of one species found in a particular area, and used as a unit for fisheries management, for example, NAFO area 4R Herring

Stock Assessment: scientific evaluation of the status of a fish stock within a particular area in a given time period

Total Allowable Catch (TAC): the amount of catch that may be taken from a stock

Traditional Ecological Knowledge: a cumulative body of knowledge and beliefs, handed down through generations by cultural transmission, about the relationship of living beings (including humans) with one another and with their environment

Tonne: metric tonne, 1000kg or 2204.6 lbs

Appendix 1: Safety at sea

Vessel owners and masters have a duty to ensure the safety of their crew and vessel.  Adherence to safety regulations and good practices by owners, masters and crew of fishing vessels will help save lives, protect the vessel from damage and protect the environment.  All fishing vessels must be in a seaworthy condition and maintained as required by Transport Canada and other applicable agencies.  Vessels subject to inspection should have a certificate of inspection valid for the area of intended operation. 

In the federal government, responsibility for regulating shipping, navigation, and vessel safety lies with Transport Canada, while emergency response is the responsibility of the Canadian Coast Guard. DFO has responsibility for the management of fisheries resources, and in Newfoundland and Labrador, the provincial Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission  has jurisdiction over health and safety issues in the workplace. 

Before leaving on a voyage the owner, master or operator must ensure that the fishing vessel is capable of safely making the passage. Critical factors for a safe voyage include:

Useful publications include Transport Canada’s Small Fishing Vessel Safety Manual which can be obtained from Transport Canada or printed from their website.

Fishing vessel safety includes 3 priority areas:

Fishing vessel stability

Vessel stability is paramount for safety.  Care must be given to the stowage and securing of all cargo, skiffs, equipment, fuel containers and supplies, and also to correct ballasting. Fish harvesters must be familiar with their vessel’s centre of gravity, the effect of free surface liquids on stability, loose water or fish on deck, loading and unloading operations and the vessel’s freeboard.  Fish harvesters should know the limitations of their vessels. If unsure, the vessel operator should contact a qualified naval architect, marine surveyor or the local Transport Canada Marine Safety office.

Fishing vessel owners are required to develop detailed instructions addressing the limits of stability for each of their vessels. The instructions must be based on a formal assessment of the vessel by a qualified naval architect and include detailed safe operation documentation. Instructions should be kept on board the vessel at all times.

Fishing vessel owners should also keep on-board detailed documentation on engine room procedures, maintenance schedules to ensure watertight integrity, and instructions for regular practice of emergency drills.

Emergency drill requirements

The vessel master must establish procedures and assign responsibilities to each crew member for emergencies such as crew member overboard, fire, flooding, abandoning ship and calling for help.

Since July 30, 2003, all crew members with more than 6 months at sea are required to have taken minimum Marine Emergency Duties  training or be registered for such training. 

Marine Emergency Duties  provides a basic understanding of:

Cold water immersion

Drowning is the number one cause of death in the fishing industry. Cold water is defined as water below 25 degrees Celsius, but the greatest effects occur below 15 degrees Celsius.  Newfoundland and Labrador waters are usually below 15 degrees. 

The effects of cold water on the body occur in 4 stages:

Vessel masters should know what to do to prevent themselves or their crew from falling into the water and what to do if that occurs.

Other issues


Vessel owners and masters are reminded of the importance of paying close attention to current weather trends and forecasts during the voyage.  Marine weather information and forecasts can be obtained from Environment Canada’s website.

Emergency radio procedures

Vessel owners and masters should ensure that all crew are able to activate the Search and Rescue  system by contacting the Canadian Coast Guard  early rather than later.      It is strongly recommended that all fish harvesters carry a registered 406 MHz Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon . These beacons should be registered with Coast Guard’s National Search and Rescue secretariat. When activated, an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon  transmits a distress call that is picked up or relayed by satellites and transmitted via land earth stations to the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre , which will task and co-ordinate rescue resources.

All crew members should know how to make a distress call and should obtain their restricted operator certificate from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (formerly Industry Canada). Whenever possible, masters should contact the nearest Canadian Coast Guard  Marine Communications and Traffic Services  station prior to a distress situation developing.  Correct radio procedures are important for communications in an emergency.  Incorrect or misunderstood communications may hinder a rescue response.

Since August 1, 2003 all commercial vessels greater than 20 metres in length are required to carry a Class D VHF (very high frequency) Digital Selective Calling  radio. A registered Digital Selective Calling  VHF radio has the capability to alert other Digital Selective Calling  equipped vessels in the immediate area and advise Coast Guard Marine Communications and Traffic Services  that the vessel is in distress.  Masters should be aware that they should register their DSC radios with Innovation, Science and Economic Development  Canada to obtain a Marine Mobile Services Identity (MMSI) number; otherwise the automatic distress calling feature of the radio may not work.

A DSC radio that is connected to a GPS unit will also automatically include the vessel’s current position in the distress message.  More detailed information on Marine Communications and Traffic Services  and Digital Selective Calling  can be obtained by contacting a local Marine Communications and Traffic Services  center or from the Canadian Coast Guard.

Collison regulations

Fish harvesters should have a thorough knowledge of the Collision Regulations and the responsibilities between vessels where risk of collision exists.  Navigation lights must be kept in good working order and must be displayed from sunset to sunrise and during all times of restricted visibility. To help reduce the potential for collision or close quarters situations that may also result in the loss of fishing gear, fish harvesters are encouraged to monitor the appropriate local Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) VHF channel, when travelling or fishing near shipping lanes or other areas frequented by large commercial vessels. 

Vessels required to participate in Vessel Traffic Services  include:

Exceptions include:

Additional information can be found on the Collision Regulations page.  

Sail plan

An important trip consideration is the use of a sail plan which includes the particulars of the vessel, crew and voyage. The sail plan should be left with a responsible person on shore or filed with the local Marine Communications and Traffic Services  centre. After leaving port the fish harvester should contact the holder of the sail plan daily or as per another schedule. The sail plan should ensure notification to Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre  when communication is not maintained which might indicate your vessel is in distress.  Be sure to cancel the sail plan upon completion of the voyage.

Appendix 2: Map of whelk fishing areas

In the whelk fishery, fishing areas are established according to Lobster Fishing Area.

Map illustrating Lobster Fishing Area
Map illustrating Lobster Fishing Area

Appendix 3: Conservation and Protection Enforcement Data for Whelk

Departmental Violations System (DVS) data for whelk (2014 to 2019):

See description for details

Departmental Violations System (DVS) data for whelk (2014 to 2019):

  2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Number of Occurrences 9 11 12 5 2 9
Number of Charges Laid 0 1 0 0 0 0
Number of Warnings Issued 1 3 5 0 1 1
Number of Charges Pending/Under Review 0 0 0 0 0 0
See description for details

Distribution of effort (2014 to 2019):

  2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Total Work Effort Hours 770 583 368 120 37 97
Number of Patrols 61 21 31 14 8 15

Appendix 4: Departmental contacts

DFO Newfoundland and Labrador Region headquarters
P.O. Box 5667, St. John’s, NL, A1C 5X1
Contact Telephone Fax Email
Martin Henri
Senior Resource Manager
Resource Management and Indigenous Fisheries
709-772-4911 709-772-3628
Wayne King
Regional Manager
Resource Management and Indigenous Fisheries
709-896-6157 709-772-3628
Kerry Bunguay
Chief of Enforcement Operations
Conservation and Protection
709-772-0468 709-772-3628
Derek Osborne
Section Head
Shellfish Science
709-772-2076 709-772-4188
Jason Kelly
Manager – Project Reviews
Fish and Fish Habitat Protection Program
709-772-4126 709-772-5562
Dawn Mercer
Senior Oceans Biologist
Ecosystems Management Branch
709-772-4126 709-772-5562
Frank Corbett
Manager - Policy and Economic Analysis
709-772-6935 709-772-4583
DFO Newfoundland and Labrador area offices – Resource Management and Indigenous Fisheries
Laurie Hawkins
Area Chief (3Ps, 4R)
Corner Brook, NL
709-637-4310 709-637-4476
DFO Newfoundland and Labrador area offices – Conservation and Protection
Chad Ward
Area Chief (3KLPs)
St. John's, NL
709-772-5857 709-772-2659
Brent Watkins
Area Chief (2GHJ, 3K, 4R3Pn)
Corner Brook, NL
709-637-4334 709-637-4445
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