By Tina Comeau
A proposal is being put to fishermen in Lobster Fishing Area (LFA) 34 that, for the next two lobster seasons, would see the number of traps they fish reduced to 300 and would see the opening of the season delayed by one week.
The proposal is being made by the LFA 34 Management Board, which says the pros of these measures outweigh the cons when it comes to the future of the industry.
If approved, a reduced trap limit and a one-week delay would be tested as a two-year pilot project. With 987 licence holders in LFA 34, a 75-trap reduction would see 74,025 fewer lobster traps in the water when the fall season opens and another 24,675 fewer traps after April 1. The season ends May 31.
A meeting will be held at the Yarmouth Grand Hotel on Tuesday, Sept. 25, at 1 p.m. where licence holders will vote on the proposal. Licence holders who cannot attend can send a person to act as a proxy. A letter signed by the licence holder designating the person as their proxy is required.
The votes of licence holders who do not attend the meeting (or send a proxy on their behalf) will be counted as part of the majority vote of the meeting, which will either be in favour of or against the proposal. Therefore the management board says it is important for fishermen to turn out to cast their vote.
When the fishery opens in the fall, fishermen are permitted to have 375 traps. That number climbs to 400 in the spring portion of the season. The LFA 34 Management Board sees the following factors as pros with the 300-trap proposal:
• There would be a 15 to 20 per cent reduction in landings in the first few weeks of the season, which will help alleviate the glut.
• The management board expects more lobsters will be caught at a higher quality, because fishermen will have more time to sort through their catch. Better quality can translate to better price.
• From a safety perspective, most boats can more safely accommodate 300 traps.
• This would open up 20 per cent more room on the fishing grounds, which should create less fouled gear. It will also allow crews to spend less time hauling gear.
• There would be a 20 per cent reduction in expenses.
• Some captains are finding it more difficult o find crew because of a migration of hired hands out west, therefore this might allow some businesses to downsize.
• There is less of a necessity of a business to overcapitalize on larger vessels, which might make it easier for younger fishermen to get into the industry.
• The carbon footprint on the ocean and environment would be reduced as boats could burn less fuel, require less bait, etc.
Still, there are cons, the board acknowledges, including that fact that some boats have business plans based on 375 traps and fishermen have already spent money on new gear. All of the pros and cons and a discussion about the proposal will be laid out at the Sept. 25 meeting prior to the vote.
“Most everything that I’m hearing is positive feedback on it,” says LFA 34 Management Board chair Jeff d’Entremont. “We have to look forward, we have to keep moving forward. I think this is the way we have to go and reassess it after next year and the season after.”
Ashton Spinney, the former chair of the board, agrees. “Everyone is saying we need change and in order for it to mean anything it has to be a drastic change. A two-year pilot, it gives them the opportunity to assess it. If it doesn’t work, they can make changes where it doesn’t work, where it does work build on it.”
Meanwhile on the issue of stacked licences in the industry, those who have them would still be allowed to have a licence and a half on their boats. But with a 300-trap limit for single licences, a stacked licence would only be allowed 450 traps under the trap reduction proposal being made. Not 600 traps.
As for delaying the opening of the season by one week, the management board says doing so would mean a cooler water temperature, which could translate into better lobster quality. As well, there would be less of an overlap in landings with other LFAs. But delaying the season by a week could be concerning to inshore fishermen who say the catch moves further offshore as the water temperature cools.
However, Cory Nickerson, vice-chair of the management board, says if you’re going to try postponing the season by a week, then this coming season and the next one are the ideal seasons in to test it. Because of where the last Monday of November falls this year and next year (Nov. 26 this year and Nov. 25 next year) it almost amounts to the season starting a week early compared with past years.
“Some years you only start the first of December anyway, so this would be a good two years to try this week delay,” Nickerson says. “There are some years that people would lose this week anyway.”
Instead of the season starting on Nov. 26 this year it would begin on Dec. 3.
The management board says since the spring they’ve been examining and considering many proposals and options for the industry. The trap reduction and season delay, the board feels, are the best options.
Now they’ll have to see if the majority of licence holders agree.
The management board has been in discussions with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to ensure that if fishermen vote in favour of the proposal, it will be possible to make these changes to the licence conditions for this season.
“We don’t want to go to the fishermen and propose something that DFO will say later on isn’t doable,” says d’Entremont. “We’ve been told there is time.”