1706389967 Redfish fishing opens in Gulf of St Lawrence

Redfish fishing opens in Gulf of St. Lawrence

After almost 30 years of moratorium, commercial redfish fishing will be permitted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this year. Fishermen and industrialists welcome the news but deplore the starvation of quotas.

The first phase of reopening this fishery will be carried out with a minimum of 25,000 tonnes for Quebec and the Atlantic provinces.

In her announcement Friday, Fisheries and Oceans Minister Diane Lebouthillier did not specify how much of that quota would go to each province, but said the lion's share would go to Nova Scotia.

Diane Lebouthillier stands on a platform.

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The reopening of the fishery was announced by Fisheries and Oceans Minister Diane Lebouthillier on Friday afternoon in Rivière-au-Renard, while presenting a transition plan for the future of fishing in Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Stéphanie Rousseau

The distribution also shows that offshore fishermen, meaning boats longer than 100 feet, receive the majority of the allocations, or 58.69% of the total approved.

However, access and allocations are broken down by fleet, with estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence shrimpers and indigenous communities each entitled to a 10% share of the quota reserved for them.

Total redfish quota allocation by fleet sector

Fleet sectorsAllocations (%)
Mobile offshore fleets (ships > 100 feet)58.69%
Mobile coastal fleets (ships < 65 feet)14.84%
Mid-coastal mobile fleets (vessels between 65 and 100 feet)5.72%
Fixed equipment for coastal fishing (bycatch)0.75%
Shrimp Fishermen of the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence10%
Indigenous communities10%

Source: Fisheries and Oceans Canada

For the following years, Minister Lebouthillier mentions development work with transition quotas.

A fisherman throws a box of redfish onto a conveyor belt near his boat.3:06

Lamèque fishermen are experimenting with redfish fishing in the hope of paving the way for the emergence of a new industry.

Photo: Radio-Canada

The day after the announcement, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced the estimated distribution by province, based on the provincial distribution of the historic fleet. However, this is only an estimate, as discussions on partial allocations are still ongoing. The ministry adds that allocations may also change based on private transactions.

Estimated distribution by province (change from 1993 allocations shown in parentheses)

Quebec: 32% (+0.2)

Newfoundland and Labrador: 19% (+2.0)

Nova Scotia: 33% (-5.8)

New Brunswick: 11% (+3.1)

Prince Edward Island: 5% (+0.5)

Source: Fisheries and Oceans Canada

The general manager of Pêcheries Gaspésiennes, Olivier Dupuis, considers the opening of redfish fishing to be good news for the processing and marketing sector, as it already processes redfish at its factory in Rivière-au-Renard.

“We had already started indicator and experimental fishing in 2023 and the feedback was good, but now it will give us a good impetus to further develop the market and commercialize this new product,” commented M. Dupuis, who is also the groundfish processor Gaspésie represents at AQIP.

There will be several steps, but we are at the first step […]. We are encouraged.

A man smiles in a fish processing factory with equipment behind him.

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Olivier Dupuis is managing director of the Rivière-au-Renard plant of Pêcheries gaspésiennes, a company specializing in the processing of groundfish. (archive photo)

Photo: Radio-Canada / Martin Toulgoat

Small shrimp quota for 2024

Given the collapse of northern shrimp stocks in the estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence, DFO has no choice but to significantly reduce the total allowable catch (TAC) for the next fishery.

Shrimp boats from New Brunswick, Quebec and Newfoundland can expect a low quota of just 3,060 tons.

Total allowable catches distributed across the four shrimp fishing zones

Shrimp fishing areasTotal allowable catch (tonnes)
Esquiman1757 tons
Anticosti488 tons
mouth473 tons
Sept-Iles342 tons

Source: Fisheries and Oceans Canada

The four northern shrimp fishing areas in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

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The four northern shrimp fishing zones in the Gulf of St. Lawrence (archive photo)

Photo: Radio-Canada

Although this is a slightly higher quota than many observers originally expected for the coming season, this catch is barely enough to supply a single factory in the entire Gulf.

Depending on the numbers we have seen at the Advisory Committee and the peer review, the announced quota looks quite similar to the best scenarios presented by the scientific sector, nuanced the Director General of the Fishermen's Office of Quebec Shrimp, Patrice Element.

That's still a significant decrease from last year, but we know the resource is no longer necessarily there. Therefore, we can hardly expect anything better in the current context.

Patrice Element stares straight ahead as she listens.

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Patrice Element, director of the Quebec shrimp fishermen's office (archive photo)

Photo: Radio-Canada / Roxanne Langlois

As for the red snapper quota allocated to shrimpers, or 10% of the total 25,000 tonnes for all Gulf and Estuary shrimpers, Mr. Element would have hoped for more.

We're talking about £70,000 per boat and from what we've seen that's the equivalent of about two days of fishing […]. This will not save the entire fleet, he said.

The minister is currently neither planning an aid fund nor the possibility of buying back licenses for the shrimp industry.

However, Minister Lebouthillier points out that Fisheries and Oceans will show flexibility in terms of licenses, in particular by granting the possibility of a partnership, that is, for fishermen to be allowed to fish on board the same boat.

However, the mayor of Gaspé, Daniel Côté, believes that this is not enough. He believes the announcement of the resumption of redfish fishing is far from a panacea. He also regrets that compensation for members of the industry has not been announced as hoped.

With the redfish and shrimp quotas that exist, it is clear that there is no work for all our fishermen, it is clear that not all of our boats will sail, […] It is clear that there will be people who will go hungry, he argues, putting the number of jobs in the fishing industry in Grand Gaspé at 1,200.

Daniel Cote.

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Daniel Côté was very involved in his community when the shrimp crisis broke out. (archive photo)

Photo: Radio-Canada / Marguerite Morin

This requires some form of help to the industry. Were we expecting him today? Yes… Could we reasonably expect to have it today? No… The door is not closed and we hope that it remains open because our people will need it, believes Patrice Element.

Mr Côté continues to believe that the end of the redfish fishing moratorium is good news.

There are interesting future prospects […], but what worries me is the world here, which at least had to get above water. We have the beginning of good news. I dare hope that the 25,000 tons of red snapper will become 60,000 or 80,000 tons or maybe more.

Although he welcomes the opening of the commercial red snapper fishery, the general director of the Association of Captains and Owners of Gaspésie, Claudio Bernatchez, also regrets the great challenge faced by shrimp fishermen.

Despite the fact that the Minister has made efforts to restart the commercial red snapper fishery and maintain a minimum TAC [totaux autorisés de captures] In the shrimp fishery, the challenge remains to see how we can support the shrimp fleet and other fleets to get through the crisis, admits Mr. Bernatchez.

There will certainly be a big decision for many fishing operators next fishing season, including whether to launch their boat, he adds.

Claudio Bernatchez.

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Claudio Bernatchez is general director of the Association of Captains and Owners of Gaspésie.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Marguerite Morin

Contrasting reactions on the Magdalen Islands

Although he believes the redfish industry needs to be rebuilt, manager of Madelipêche in the Magdalene Islands, Paul Boudreau, is pleased with Friday's announcement.

This Madelin-based company owned 25% of the Gulf's sockeye quotas before the 1995 moratorium. Mr. Boudreau expects to regain the majority of these historic shares.

He further emphasizes that 20% of the quota was diverted to shrimp fishermen and indigenous communities, leaving other fleets with 80% of the quota.

When [la pêche au] Due to the redfish closure, we did not have access to shrimp, but overall 80% of the quota is allocated based on historical proportions. “Overall, we are happy with this decision,” he said.

We have 25% of the 80%: We will have about 20% of the total quota, the announced 25,000 tonnes, left. [La ministre] said that these are the historical stocks and the historical stocks that we have, reiterates Mr. Boudreau.

He points out that several more Magdalen vessels will be available to catch redfish this year.

Paul Boudreau, representative of the traditional crab fishery in zone 12, in the port of Cap-aux-Meules.

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Paul Boudreau is also the traditional crabfish representative for zone 12 in the Magdalen Islands. (archive photo)

Photo: Radio-Canada / Isabelle Larose

The disappointment is greater on the part of the islands' redfish fishermen's association, which is hoping that coastal fishermen will benefit.

The latter receive less than 15% of the announced allocations.

The association's president, Jean-Bernard Bourgeois, also president of the Îles-de-la-Madeleine bait fishermen's association, believes that this announcement will leave several fishermen behind.

“I have members who have been in trouble for a year, who are really in a real shutdown, not a quota reduction, who still have nothing and no answer,” he admits.

I find that very unfortunate. We had high hopes for this announcement, but I think we were forgotten on our side.

A moratorium was recently placed on commercial fishing for winter flounder, yellowtail, spring herring and mackerel. Bait fishermen have repeatedly asked Ottawa for help.

Fisheries Fund

In this presentation, Diane Lebouthillier also announced the extension of the Quebec and Atlantic Fisheries Fund until 2026.

Funding for both programs was scheduled to expire next March.

By prioritizing innovative projects related to the red snapper fishery, this expansion will provide the tools and funding our fishermen need to transition to this new fishery, Ms. Lebouthillier said in her announcement on Friday.

At the time of writing, approximately $8 million remains in the Quebec fund and $22 million remains in the Atlantic fund.

Diane Lebouthillier also explained that negotiations are underway with the provincial governments.

Funding for the Quebec Fisheries Fund and the Atlantic comes 70% from the federal government and 30% from the provincial government.

In collaboration with Martin Toulgoat, Stéphanie Rousseau and Isabelle Larose