Proposal confuses crab fishers
Area 19 being considered for marine protected area
A group of Cape Breton snow crab fishers says it’s concerned that a proposed marine protection zone off the island’s northwest coast could endanger the economies of local fishing villages.
And, members of the area 19 Snow Crab Fishermen’s Association say they also felt blindsided after learning the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans had unexpectedly listed their fishing grounds as the location of a proposed marine protected area.
Board member and longtime fisher Bill MacDonald said the association only became aware that their area (a rectangular shaped zone extending from Inverness to north of the tip of Cape Breton and westward into the Gulf of St. Lawrence) was being considered for a marine protected area during a recent meeting with officials from the DFO’s oceans management section.
“We had met with them in the fall and when we looked at the DFO website it was never a factor for us — we always thought it was other places,” said MacDonald, adding that the area 19 fishers learned about the proposal during a Jan. 17 meeting with department officials.
“They told us that we were suddenly an area of interest, so we’re just as confused as anyone else — we’re just blindsided by it because we thought there’d be a process and there’s been very little information about it.
“How did it get changed so quickly? How did we qualify so quickly? We can’t identify anything in particular in our zone that is in need of protection.”
In speaking for the snow crab fishers along Cape Breton’s west and north coastlines, MacDonald said there is plenty of confusion as to the consequences of having part of their fishing ground designated as a marine protected area.
“We have a well managed fishery here, we only have 150 fishers, we only catch male snow crab, we only fish for a few weeks a year, we’re not intrusive — we just don’t understand,” he said.
With area 19 fishers ranging from Inverness to Bay St. Lawrence, the region falls under the representation of both Sydney-Victoria MP Mark Eyking and Cape Breton-Canso MP Rodger Cuzner.
Eyking said the process of identifying and defining potential marine protected areas is still in the preliminary stages and that local fishers should not be worried about losing their livelihood.
“I guess we need to do a better job in explaining to fishers in the different areas about the different types of marine protected areas — it doesn’t necessarily mean that inshore fishers would be banned from an area or be unable to harvest in an area,” said Eyking.
“It’s not about keeping fishers out of these areas, it’s to protect the marine area from potential heavy-usage or bad usage that could affect marine life — we’re looking at different models and we’re definitely going to have the fishers involved and we’ll look at how these areas can help them, especially those in the inshore fishery.”
Eyking said new marine protected areas are part of his government’s mandate to better protect and regulate Canadian waters.
“One of the key things here is protecting their fish stocks,” he said. “We believe we have one of the best managed fisheries in the world and we want to continue that, we want to make sure that these sensitive areas are protected.”
Meanwhile, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has yet to determine the specific boundaries for the St. Anns Bank marine protected area that was selected last year following an eight-month consultation process with various interest groups.
According to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s Nova Scotia chapter, St. Anns Bank is home to deepsea corals and sponges, several species-at-risk populations, including the Atlantic wolffish, and is an important summer foraging area for the endangered leatherback turtle.
The Canadian government has stated it is committed to designating 10 per cent of the country’s marine and coastal areas as marine protected areas. Its 2016 budget earmarked about $124-million over five years to support marine conservation activities.
“We believe we have one of the best managed fisheries in the world and we want to continue that, we want to make sure that these sensitive areas are protected.”
Sydney-Victoria MP Mark Eyking
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