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Fish or cut bait
There is an alternative.
But it isn’t just talk.
Like fighting fire with fire, you could call it fighting science with science.
More and more in recent years, fish harvesters have had a problem with science. The results that scientists are finding in surveys of fish species are, the harvesters say, at loggerheads with what harvesters are actually seeing.
This year, it’s mackerel. (It’s been many different species over many different years.)
Scientists with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) say the Atlantic mackerel spawning stock is in virtual freefall; that, compared to 20 years ago, the stock has fallen by 86 per cent. That kind of number means the biomass is in the critical zone and urgent conservation measures have to be taken.
The fish harvesters argue that DFO is doing its surveys wrong. DFO does a mackerel egg and larvae survey near primary spawning grounds, but the harvesters argue the survey is done too early, when waters aren’t warm enough.
That’s not sitting well with fish harvesters. Off Nova Scotia, fishers say they are seeing large numbers of juvenile mackerel, which suggests successful spawning is happening. Fishermen off Newfoundland also say they are seeing larger number of mackerel.
But that kind of comparison is worse than apples and oranges; it’s like comparing apples and beach rocks.
The fish harvesters argue that DFO is doing its surveys wrong. DFO does a mackerel egg and larvae survey near primary spawning grounds, but the harvesters argue the survey is done too early, when waters aren’t warm enough. When the survey crosses into areas with higher temperatures, spawn and egg numbers rise to levels more in line with historic numbers.
The fish harvesters argue that spawning is taking place after the DFO survey is off the water.
The problem, though, is that while it may be honest and accurate, anecdotal information shouldn’t be able to trump science. Measured scientific work done over a series of years is about as objective a result as you can find — and no one in science has the issue of their livelihood being on the line with a result one way or another.
Sticking with anecdotal observations from people whose jobs depend on a certain result just isn’t a good plan. But there is a way to deal with that. If the fish harvesters truly believe that there is an implicit error in the way that the mackerel biomass is being measured, find a better way — sponsor research, either through donating vessel time or through convincing fish unions and the industry to do scientific work to back up anecdotal experience. Or give DFO clear evidence of the need to move the survey.
Fight fire with fire.
Fight science with science.
But you can’t make fisheries policy based on what people say they are seeing on the water. It’s no empirical measure of any kind.
Look at it this way: if meteorologists tell you a heavy snowfall is coming, with dangerously high winds, do you say, “It doesn’t look like snow to me” and head out onto the highway anyway?
If you do, you’re truly the architect of your own misfortune.