Frus­tra­tion mounts in Gulf lob­ster fish­ery over clo­sures: union


A group rep­re­sent­ing Gulf of St. Lawrence lob­ster fish­er­men says frus­tra­tion is mount­ing after the fed­eral govern­ment re­jected its pro­posal for a shal­low-wa­ter ex­emp­tion to fish­ery clo­sures aimed at pro­tect­ing en­dan­gered North At­lantic right whales. The Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans (DFO) says it con­sid­ered the pro­posal by the Mar­itime Fish­er­men’s Union and the Pecheurs pro­fes­sion­nels du Sud de la Gaspe­sie, but will not ex­empt waters of up to 10 fath­oms - or 18 me­tres - in depth. “We felt stay­ing in that depth of wa­ter, which is where most of our fish­er­men are now at this time of year any­ways, was a re­ally good com­pro­mise,’’ said Carl Allen, pres­i­dent of the Mar­itime Fish­er­men’s Union. Last week, DFO is­sued tem­po­rary clo­sures to six more grid ar­eas due to the pres­ence of right whales. The move came after six ar­eas were closed to sev­eral fish­eries as of May 22. A static closure zone is in place along New Brunswick’s north­ern coast un­til June 30, while DFO has been en­forc­ing what are called dy­namic man­age­ment clo­sures that shut down fish­ing ac­tiv­i­ties for 15 days once a right whale sight­ing is con­firmed. In an in­ter­view Mon­day, Allen said fish­er­men are having a hard time un­der­stand­ing DFO’s logic after they were will­ing to com­ply with any num­ber of mea­sures, in­clud­ing the use of track­ing tech­nol­ogy and ob­servers. “The idea that if a whale slides into a cer­tain quad­rant and then they are go­ing to shut the fish­ery right down to zero feet of wa­ter ... is some­what un­ac­cept­able. It’s hard to un­der­stand the logic be­hind it,’’ said Allen. He said fish­er­men know of no in­stances where right whales ven­tured into shal­lower waters of the Gulf at depths from 18 to 36 me­tres. But Amy Knowl­ton, a right whale re­search sci­en­tist with the New Eng­land Aquar­ium, said that’s not strictly the case. Knowl­ton has stud­ied the huge marine mam­mal’s mi­gra­tory pat­terns along the east­ern North Amer­ica, in­clud­ing in the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. “We see whales very close to shore in var­i­ous parts of the East Coast and up in the Gulf, she said. Knowl­ton said the whales have been known to feed close to shore and could go through shal­lower waters when mi­grat­ing. “When you have such a high den­sity of right whales up there now, it’s not to say that they would never go into th­ese shal­low waters. I think the food might be in the deeper waters, but they could also be me­an­der­ing around looking for patches or mi­grat­ing to their next area of food.’’ As things stand, Allen said the se­ries of on­go­ing clo­sures could cost lob­ster fish­er­men about 25 per cent of their in­come. The lob­ster and snow crab fish­eries are sched­uled to end in the Gulf of St. Lawrence at the end of this month. Allen’s or­ga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sents 1,250 lob­ster fish­er­men in New Brunswick and Nova Sco­tia - about 600 mem­bers fish in re­gions of the Gulf. “The Aca­dian Penin­sula is al­ready hurt­ing this year be­cause they have lost a lot of crab due to the fact boats are land­ing crab else­where be­cause of the static closure,’’ he said. “The lob­ster fish­ery was go­ing to be the one to fill that void.’’ In a news re­lease is­sued late Fri­day ex­plain­ing its de­ci­sion, DFO said the clo­sures are the most ef­fec­tive way to pro­tect right whales from en­tan­gle­ments in fish­ing gear. It said the depart­ment is act­ing on the “best sci­ence in­for­ma­tion avail­able.’’ “Th­ese mea­sures are about more than pro­tect­ing th­ese whales, and in do­ing so they are also pro­tect­ing the long-term eco­nomic well-be­ing of our coastal com­mu­ni­ties. “The world is watch­ing how we’re han­dling this is­sue and we are mind­ful of the potential im­pacts to trade that de­pend on our choices.’’ Allen said lob­ster fish­er­men aren’t with­out some sym­pa­thy for that point of view. “We all hope that lob­ster won’t get caught up in a trade war, he said. ‘’I just think they could have come up with a bet­ter plan. An ex­emp­tion into 60 feet of wa­ter is not go­ing to harm th­ese whales.” Allen said al­though his or­ga­ni­za­tion’s mem­ber­ship has been will­ing to co-op­er­ate with the mea­sures so far, there may come a point where they say they’ve “had enough.’’ “You can only be put in a cor­ner so long ... be­fore you de­cide you are just go­ing to push your way out,’’ he said. “But I re­ally don’t know how the fish­er­men are go­ing to re­act.’’


Right whales are seen in the south Gulf of Saint Lawrence in this hand­out photo.

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