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Millions at stake in DFO failed actions to rebuild Atlantic mackerel

Nov 10, 2020

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Mackerel populations need rebuilding.

Inaction by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) on measures to rebuild the Atlantic mackerel stock is reducing the long-term value of the fishery by more than $50 million, according to a new cost-benefit analysis.

Atlantic mackerel support both natural ecosystems and coastal livelihoods. Fishermen catch mackerel for commercial sale and also use them as bait for the region’s most lucrative fisheries, including lobster, crab and bluefin tuna. Additionally, mackerel are fished recreationally, providing a source of food and a connection to the ocean for everyday people.

However, according to DFO’s population assessment, Atlantic mackerel numbers are now in the “critical” zone. “The Atlantic mackerel population has been declining for over a decade, with levels only 1/20th of what they were in 1980s,” says Katie Schleit, Senior Fisheries Advisor for Oceans North. Yet quota decisions continue to be made that prioritize catches over rebuilding. At current trajectories, this could lead to the closure of the fishery—an experience with which Atlantic Canada is all too familiar.

Gardner-Pinfold Consulting conducted a cost-benefit analysis for Oceans North to assess the trade-offs between short-term and long-term fishing under different management scenarios over a 19-year time period. DFO has often justified its quota decisions based on the potential economic impact of a decrease. The analysis shows that minimizing fishing could lead to benefits estimated at over $54 million, with a 12.9% return on the “investment” in stock rebuilding.

“DFO’s recent management decisions or rebuilding plan have neither prioritized rebuilding the population nor taken into account what’s best for the long-term future of the fishery,” explains Schleit. “We know from other regions that forage fish such as mackerel can recover if the proper measures are in place. Failure to make the right decisions at the right time puts coastal ecosystems and communities at risk.”