Herring quota in southwestern Nova Scotia, Bay of Fundy reduced again

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has again lowered the Atlantic herring quota in southwestern Nova Scotia and the Bay of Fundy, this time for 2024 to 2027.

DFO has announced the total allowable catch for the fishery will be 16,000 tonnes per season over those four seasons. The 2023 allocation was 21,000 tonnes.

"Atlantic herring, like many fisheries, faces challenges as a result of climate change, which has led to herring that are smaller in size and that have more difficulty surviving and reproducing in their ecosystem," says a news release from the department.

The Atlantic herring stock fell into a critical zone in 2018 and remains there, according to the department. To date, the quota has been cut by more than half, from 50,000 tonnes in 2016 and 42,500 tonnes in both 2017 and 2018.

Previously, the industry and conservation groups have been at odds over quota amounts.

"We recognize the economic impacts this decision will have on the families and communities that rely on income from fishing and processing herring. But such a decision is necessary to ensure recovery and protect the resource for future generations," said the DFO release.

A statement from the Seafood Producers Association of Nova Scotia on Friday said the DFO's decision was "shocking" and will be devastating for many operators and plants in rural Maritime communities.

It said the herring fishery in southwestern Nova Scotia and the Bay of Fundy supports 1,000 jobs and a processing sector in the province and New Brunswick.

"Using DFO's own overly pessimistic science, industry showed that a [21,000-tonne quota] could be maintained while completing the science process and ensuring that the stock would be rebuilt," the statement said.

It said imposing the quota over four years would make it even more difficult for companies to operate in the region.

Action centre applauds four-year quota

Meanwhile, the Ecology Action Centre and Oceans North advocated for the quota to be 13,000 tonnes — but still the organizations were pleased the department set the total allowable catch closer to what they've advocated for than in years past.

Shannon Arnold, the associate director of marine programs at the Ecology Action Centre, commended DFO for implementing the quota for four years — rather than bringing the issue back year after year.

"This is going to allow for like a good chunk of time to step back, redo the science framework, look at creating the required rebuilding plan for this stock and really taking the time."

Arnold said the short-term benefits of a higher quota allocation, which industry advocated for, could undermine the economic future of coastal communities.

Earlier this year, an economic analysis released by Oceans North said a rebuilt Atlantic herring stock could be worth at least $402 million.

"We are still a little concerned that it might not be enough, but it is closer to where we think it should go," said Katie Schleit, a fisheries director at the non-profit conservation group. "Forage fish like herring are important not only for their economic value as a fishery but also for the economic value that they provide in the water as food source."

Under the Fisheries Act, there's a requirement to rebuild fish stocks in the critical zone within a "reasonable time frame."

Michelle Greenlaw, a research scientist with DFO, said the total allowable catch is not necessarily associated with a rebuilding timeline.

"But this could be part of a sustainable fishing strategy to rebuild," said Greenlaw. "We don't have a rebuilding target set in place for the herring stock — usually it's within two generations."