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Recovery Strategy for Northern Wolffish and Spotted Wolffish, and Management Plan for Atlantic Wolffish in Canada [Final]


3. Permitted Activities

Subsection 83(4) of SARA allows for certain activities to be exempt from the general prohibitions of SARA, provided the activities are permitted in recovery strategies, action plans or management plans. In order for this section to be applicable, individuals must be authorized under an Act of Parliament, such as the Fisheries Act, to carry out such activities. Section 83(4) can be used as an exemption to allow activities, which have been determined to not jeopardize the survival or recovery of the species.

A Zonal Advisory Process (ZAP) held in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador in May 2004 provided an opportunity to review scientific advice regarding the determination of allowable harm for both wolffish species that are currently listed as threatened, A. denticulatus and A. minor. Participants of the review included individuals from government, industry and other non-governmental organizations. The advice resulting from this meeting was summarized in an Allowable Harm Assessment report (DFO 2004b).

The Allowable Harm Assessment concluded that recent (2000-2002) levels of mortality do not impair the ability of the species to recover. However, all efforts should be taken to enhance the survival in the fisheries, primarily through mandatory release of wolffish in a manner that will increase the chance of survival. This document adopts that conclusion and, in accordance with subsection 83(4) of SARA, permits fishers authorized under the Fisheries Act who are engaged in commercial or recreational fishing or in a First Nation’s food, social and ceremonial (FSC) fishery for groundfish, shellfish and pelagic species (including emerging fisheries) that may incidentally kill, harm, harass, capture or take A. denticulatus or A. minor to carry out these activities under the following conditions:

  • Every person on board the fishing vessel who incidentally catches northern A. denticulatus or A. minor while conducting fishing activities must return them to the place from which they were taken, and where they are alive, in a manner that causes them the least harm;
  • Fishers are required to collect and subsequently report information to DFO for each fishing trip where A. denticulatus or A. minoris is caught, utilizing the standard logbook/logsheet protocol specified for the target species, vessel class or licence in question.

In accordance with subsection 83(4) of SARA, this document also permits scientific research activities that are authorized under the Fisheries (General) Regulations, SOR/93-53, that are conducted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientists for the purpose of monitoring and sampling various aquatic species, including wolffish. Scientific research was identified in the Allowable Harm Assessment as having negligible impacts of the ability of both A. denticulatus and A. minor to survive and recover (DFO 2004b).

In assessing allowable harm, the longer the timeframe being examined, the more uncertainty there is in projecting impacts of exploitation on the survival or recovery of a population. Given this uncertainty, the Allowable Harm Assessment for A. denticulatus and A. minor will be re-evaluated prior to 2010, incorporating any relevant new data. The Allowable Harm Assessment may be re-evaluated earlier if there is a significant increase in fishing pressure. Current monitoring of incidental capture through both logbook data and at-sea observers will continue and will be used to assess the effectiveness of those conservation measures outlined above.

While A. lupus has been listed in SARA Schedule 1 as a species of special concern (i.e. SARA prohibitions do not apply), it is recommended that live release protocols and reporting, as outline above for A. denticulatus or A. minor, also apply to this species. However, the implementation of this recommendation is at the discretion of the DFO regions, and should be approached as a voluntary measure to be used in cooperation with other Fisheries Act requirements.

4. Potential Impacts of ohe Recovery Strategy on Other Species/Ecological Processes

This Recovery Strategy and Management Plan recognizes the importance of the entire marine ecosystem. Multi-species approaches to conservation are known to be difficult due to the diverse interactions between species and their habitats that occur within a marine ecosystem. Recovery activities such as increased habitat protection and/or conservation and implementing mitigative measures to reduce human induced impacts may also benefit other species that co-occur with wolffish in eastern Canadian waters. The extent of such benefits is not yet completely understood. Collection of data to evaluate and model ecosystem interactions may help to address this unknown. In addition, stakeholder awareness and understanding of marine biodiversity and threatened species would be heightened through stated protection and/or conservation efforts for the wolffish.

5. Actions Completed or Underway

A Multi-Stakeholder Recovery Team has been formed and the following initiatives have been initiated or have been completed:

  • Prepare a Wolffish Recovery Strategy and Management Plan - This document;
  • Update current knowledge - Summarized in this document;
  • Define goals, objectives, strategies and actions for the wolffish recovery process - This document;
  • A wolffish release program as a condition of license to examine the survival of released fish - Instituted in eastern Canada in 2003-2004 and is complete for certain fisheries;
  • Commence a program of research on population structure, life history, habitat association and population status that will provide the information required to and facilitate effective recovery work - Instituted in 2002. Research is under way to examine population structure, life history, food and feeding and habitat associations;
  • Increase understanding of the Allowable Harm Permitting process – An Allowable Harm Assessment has been undertaken and information has been provided to license holders for fisheries where wolffish may be taken as bycatch;
  • Commence an education and communication program and promote stewardship geared mainly toward resource users but also the public in general - Education programs on species at risk issues in general and wolffish specifically have taken the form of meetings with fishers and information materials have been disseminated widely.

Intra-Departmental Collaboration has been promoted through:

  • Cooperation between various Atlantic Canadian Regional DFO jurisdictions in terms of recovery and regulatory initiatives;
  • Sharing data between Atlantic Canadian Regional DFO jurisdictions; and
  • Preparation of preliminary economic profiling by regional DFO Policy and Economic Branches.

Federal, Provincial, and Aboriginal Collaboration has been promoted through:

  • Continuing consultation and cooperative exchange with other federal departments (i.e. Environment Canada, Parks Canada);
  • Continuing consultation and cooperative exchange with provincial representatives in NL Region; and
  • Presentation of the strategy to Nunavut Wildlife Management Board and continuing dialogue with Aboriginal groups.

Industry and public involvement has been promoted through:

  • Cooperative research initiatives;
  • Education and communication with stakeholders: and
  • Stewardship initiatives.

The above description of recovery related activities already under way, as promoted in draft versions of this document indicates that the Team and a host of other participants have already made significant progress in terms of recovery efforts. Progress is particularly reflected in the institution of an Atlantic release program and in research, education and stewardship initiatives presently being undertaken. Activities are elaborated in the following sections.

5.1 Recovery Strategy A - Conduct Research

Research under way includes:

  • Population analyses to determine changes in historic distribution and abundance;
  • Analysis of fishing impact;
  • Definition of habitat associations and critical habitat (wolffish utilization of various habitat features including, temperature preferences, bottom type, depth etc.;
  • Identification of gaps in current knowledge;
  • Wolffish samples collected for the following analyses;
  • Weights and numbers caught;
  • Lengths by sex;
  • Genetic, morphometric and meristic analyses to determine stock structure
  • Otoliths for aging;
  • Trends in abundance, distribution, stock (subpopulation) structure and life history; and
  • Commercial catch (observer) data to estimate fishing mortality by species, sex, size, and age to permit the estimation of the impact of fisheries bycatch on the populations.

5.2 Recovery Strategy B - Habitat Conservation and Protection

Habitat required for the recovery and survival of the threatened wolffish species are being investigated by the Recovery Team (refer to Kulka et al. 2004).

5.3 Recovery Strategy C - Mitigate Human Activities

The Recovery Team recommended the quick release of all wolffish, alive wherever possible, caught incidentally by harvesters. Although A. denticulatus and A. minor have been declared threatened species by COSEWIC, these fish were still caught incidentally in many fisheries. Federal policy previously specified that they must be brought into port where fish processors either process them or discard them. In November 2002, the Recovery Team recommended that wolffish no longer be brought into port but rather be released in a manner that maximizes chance of survival.

Wolffish have been described as a “hardy species” that tend to be lively even after capture and have a good chance of survival if released quickly. Therefore, as of 2003-2004, Allowable Harm Permits have been issued to allow harvesters the incidental capture of wolffish. Permit requirements specify that harvesters estimate the weight of their wolffish catch by species and release them quickly and safely at the capture site. Further, research has been completed to examine survival of released species.

In 2004, DFO undertook an Allowable Harm Assessment for wolffish. In summary, the conclusions from that process are as follows:

“Given that mortality due to fishing is considered the dominant source of human induced mortality for northern and spotted wolffish and that the populations of both species have been steady or increasing prior to any prohibitions, it appears that the recent (2000-2002) level of mortality does not impair the ability of the species to recover. However, all efforts should be taken to enhance survival in the fisheries, primarily through mandatory release of wolffish in a manner that will increase the chance of survival. This can only be accomplished through education and permit conditions requiring the release of wolffish in a manner that will enhance their survival. As well, any gear modifications that lead to a reduction in the bycatch of wolffish (for example the Nordmore grate employed in shrimp fishery) should be employed wherever possible. Should there be a large increase in the size of any fisheries that take significant amounts of wolffish, other options may have to be considered. Finally, it is critical that the populations and sources of harm be monitored to ensure that recovery continues to take place”.

Refer to DFO (2004) and Kulka (2004) and Kulka and Simpson (2004) for further details.

Survival of released fish is being evaluated. Publication of the results of a Habitat Stewardship Program (HSP) funded study examining survival of released wolffish is under way. As well preliminary observations suggest that fish released in an appropriate manner (placed back in the water quickly and with minimal handling, gills undisturbed) appear to have a high chance of survival. Programs educating fishers in best practices for release are under way.

5.4 Recovery Strategy D - Promote Knowledge and Stakeholder Participation in the Recovery of Wolffish Populations and Habitat Conservation and Protection

Wolffish identification cards (laminated), information sheets and posters have been widely distributed to stakeholders including fishers and fish processing plant workers. Videos are played at stakeholder meetings dealing with wolffish release and other species at risk issues.

The various forms of information have been disseminated at general meetings held by various resource user groups and by DFO. Knowledge and stewardship have also been the focus of several HSP initiatives. Direct interaction with stakeholders is a cornerstone of these initiatives. Harvesters are encouraged to get involved with the recovery of wolffish including the employment of best practices for release of wolffish and adherence to the requirement to record incidental catches.

5.5 Recovery Strategy E - Monitoring Human Activities and Wolffish Species

As part of a larger research initiative to estimate the effect of fishing activity on wolffish populations, observer coverage has been enhanced for fisheries where the majority of incidental catch of wolffish species has been identified, such as the Greenland halibut directed fisheries. Observer education and training has been undertaken to improve species identification and to provide for more detailed information collection and to pass this information on to harvesters. These data will be used to estimate removals by species which is the basis for estimating mortality related to fishing. A requirement for recording wolffish by species in log books has been instituted. Voluntary collection of wolffish landing data (by species for weight and size) at fish processing plants was instituted.

6. Evaluation of Recovery Initiative

Evaluation of recovery criteria will most likely be based on the results of demographic analyses as outlined in this document. Demographic data on reproduction, age, growth and mortality will be based on best available scientific knowledge to estimate the level of increase or decrease in the wolffish population when compared to their status as designated by COSEWIC in 2001. Such data provide a means of documenting the recovery or lack thereof, for the wolffish population in eastern Canadian waters, thereby determining the efficacy of the recovery efforts.

Throughout implementation of the Recovery Strategy and Management Plan, the following questions can be utilized to evaluate progress on meeting the stated recovery goal and objectives and adjust performance measures as appropriate:

  • Have estimates of biomass and Recovery Reference Points been researched?
  • Have the distribution and population size increased? If so, have Recovery Reference Points been reached or exceeded?
  • Have historic and present threats to wolffish populations and their habitat been fully identified, defined and mitigated?
  • Have the recommended fishery management strategies been implemented? Are they effective in reducing mortality?
  • Has habitat (i.e. critical habitat) necessary for the survival and recovery of the species been defined and accounted for in any recovery initiatives or management strategies?
  • Are stakeholders involved in the recovery activities? Are the stewardship and education initiatives achieving the desired results?

7. Statement of When Action Plan Will be Completed

An Action Plan has been drafted and will be finalized within two years of posting the final Recovery Strategy and Management Plan. A single, multi-species Action Plan for wolffish species is recommended to be consistent with this document.

The Action Plan will provide specific details for recovery implementation including measures to monitor and implement recovery, address threats, and achieve recovery objectives and specify when these measures are to take place. The Action Plan also includes an identification of critical habitat, to the extent possible, and examples of activities that are likely to result in its destruction.