Negative Reaction to Lobster Industry Observer Program

A recent meeting conducted by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) on a proposed Nova Scotia lobster observer program drew a mixed reaction.

The Lockeport meeting was held in June and was meant for organized groups of lobster harvesters in the region.

“We weren’t told what the meeting was all about and by law organized fishermen’s group like ours have to be told,” Colin Sproul said.

He is the spokesman for the 175-member Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermens Association.

Those that attended the meeting were told that DFO was acting on the request of a few independent fishermen to discuss an observer program for the lobster harvester.

The headline grabber was the fact that DFO suggested at the meeting that cameras could be installed aboard the lobster boats to record by-catch.

“This was a bit of a crock. The real issue was observers, a fact which will not work and cost individual lobstermen from $800 to $1,000,” explained Bernie Berry of the Coldwater Lobster Association.

Ottawa is under pressure by middlemen i.e. buyers and shippers and the general public to assure that this fishery is conducted in a manner which is not harmful to species such as hake and cod.

“We fish in shoal water and the few cod and hake which make it into our traps are returned to the ocean alive. We are not the problem when it comes to bycatch,” said Vincent Goreham, a member of the Maritime Fishermens Union (MFU) Local 9 based in Meteghan.

But with only a few hundred of the 1,600 licensed lobster harvesters in LFA 33-34 belonging to associations, the representatives said DFO can basically do what it wants.

“Their observer program won’t work because a harvester could wait six hours since being hailed in by DFO. We are suggesting that we can hire our own observer and make the system work much cheaper than what Ottawa will be proposing,” Sproul said.

DFO has given them the chance to do just that, but a program is needed before the fall of 2018.

Other concerns were expressed by the trio which further points to the need for every lobster harvester in LFA 33-34 to work together.

Things are changing rapidly on the lobster grounds off south and southwestern Nova Scotia. The Gulf of Maine is warming at an alarming speed and lobsters being temperature driven, could be changing their patterns.

Fishermen are seeing this each fall as hard shells and packed meats are spotty to say the least.

The water in the Gulf of Maine was so cold that lobsters didn’t crawl about and landings were disappointing although the price held at $8/pound.

Even canners caught off P.E.I. and the Northumberland Strait fetched over $7/pound, driving up the price to groups such as cruise ships and restaurants.

As the Gulf of Maine warms up, sea levels rise which leads to erosion on shore. It also increased the acidification of the ocean. Too much acidity in the water could be disastrous for fish and shellfish species that depend on smell for most of their defensive systems from predators.

While landings have soared during the past decade, a recent trend has seen settlement dip at all-time lows.

As an example, by 2015 the U.S. harvest of lobsters from the Gulf of Maine had nearly doubled in 12 years, the same holding true for the Maritimes — especially Nova Scotia. But while egg production is sky-high, young-of-the-year densities continue to plunge.

In Lobster Bay and St. Mary’s Bay in southwest Nova Scotia, settlement spiked in 2014 but have decreased substantially since then.

Fisheries scientists believe the number of predators for the lobster in the larval stage is rising or, worse still, the food source for this larvae (zooplankton) is disappearing due to warming waters.

If this trend continues, the lobster fishery as we know it is due for a crash and a big one at that.

Another factor is the inability of this group of harvesters to employ lobbyists both in Ottawa and Halifax. The oil and gas, and wind and water turbine groups have them and so far, that’s the only side politicians hear when an issue like the setting up of a wind farm in prime lobster fishing grounds off Seal Island in south west Nova Scotia comes up.

With a membership of 1,600, one would think it would be easy to come up with the money to hire these guys and it would be if they all spoke with one voice, or under the same roof.

Without lobbyists to present their views to the powers that be, they only get one side of the issue and usually go along with the flow.

Alain Meuse

Contributor – Nova Scotia

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