Canada is extending the life of its two aging science offshore fishing vessels on the east coast as the Canadian Coast Guard struggles to commission their replacements.
The transition failed due to breakdowns, unexpected maintenance and repairs on new and old scientific fishing vessels. In response, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has now postponed the scheduled retirement of 40-year-old CCGS Alfred Needler to December 31 and 34-year-old CCGS Teleost set for March 2023.
“Given the technical difficulties, both vessels will be kept operational to complete the comparative fisheries surveys,” DFO spokeswoman Kat Hallett said in a statement to CBC News.
Trawl surveys by Needler and Teleost have helped scientists estimate the abundance and distribution of fish species in Atlantic Canada for decades.
DFO considers Comparative Fisheries a “mission-critical” milestone as new fisheries science survey vessels are brought into service. It involves both new and old vessels repeatedly fishing side by side over large areas.
The differences between the performance of each vessel’s trawls are calibrated to ensure continuity in DFO data, critical for tracking long-term changes in the ecosystem.
Large fisheries companies in the region have welcomed the decision to complete the comparative fishery.
“From our perspective, that’s great news,” said Kris Vascotto, executive director of the Atlantic Groundfish Council.
Vascotto and others in the industry have criticized the DFO’s failure to provide scientific trawl surveys used in stock assessments that determine commercial quotas.
But comparative fishing, they say, is critical to ensuring the oceans’ long-term sustainability.
“Its importance cannot be overstated,” Vascotto said.
“It allows us to take information gleaned from older ships in the distant past and look at it in the same light we collect information today, especially as the ocean out there continues to change.
“The importance of this is making sure we have the right level of removals, that we have the right targets to rebuild stocks and have a positive, sustainable future for the oceans.”
DFO had been saying for months that there was no money in the budget to keep Needler and Teleost operational given the delivery of replacements CCGS Jacques Cartier in 2019, stationed in Dartmouth, NS, and CCGS John Cabot in 2021, stationed in St. John’s .
DFO did not respond to questions about how much it will cost to keep older vessels at sea.
Needler will undergo a refit in January and continue operations through June, DFO said.
There is no fixed withdrawal for Teleostei after March.
Cartier and Cabot were among the first built under the National Shipbuilding Program, along with CCGS John Franklin who is stationed in British Columbia. The three offshore fishing science vessels cost $788 million.
To complement the comparative fishery, DFO sacrificed the multispecies survey off Newfoundland and Labrador this fall “to preserve the survey time series. This approach will impact our short-term assessments, but ensures that the data collected in past will continue to inform scientific advice in the future,” Hallett said.
Comparative fishing research off Newfoundland and Labrador began in late September, but did not go well.
“There have been outages at various points for unplanned repairs,” Hallett said.
Meanwhile, CCGS Cartier will enter a two-month refit in December under the Canadian Coast Guard’s maintenance schedule.
The vessel recently completed another refit in August. That repair was extended by nearly two months and the cost increased from $306,095 to $822,300.
More maintenance ahead
The vessel entered the Canadian Marine Engineering Facility at Pictou, NS for scheduled maintenance which included the replacement of bearings in an aft propeller tube which allowed the propeller to spin smoothly. The bearing problem is common to all three of the new fisheries science vessels.
DFO did not respond to questions about why CCGS Cartier is going into repairs just over three months after the last one.
Telesot also plans a two-month refit in January and February.