By Tina Comeau
YARMOUTH, N.S. – There is strength in numbers, which is why a regional lobster association says it needs more fishermen to join it.
The association has around 80 members but says it would have more clout at the table with DFO and other groups if it was speaking for a larger percentage of the industry.
One issue is a pending decision on whether to list cusk under the Species at Risk Act. COSEWIC(Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) is collecting opinion online and through consultationsuntil March 18. The committee says the mature portion of the cusk population has declined by 85 per cent over three generations.
But Coldwater Lobster Association
feels the data this is being based on is flawed.
So why care? Because association president Bernie Berry says scenarios being touted to protect cusk include a 10 per cent trap reduction in LFA 34, increased observer coverage and potential closure of fishing areas.
Berry says data being relied upon by COSEWIC comes from dated mobile gear surveying and historical landings, among other things. Berry and lobster fishermen Lucien LeBlanc, who is also with the Coldwater Association executive, claim the data is suspect.
“There was an advantage decades ago by fishermen and fish plants to lie and say cusk was landed when it was really haddock. Back then there was no checks and balances so it looks like the cusk stock was really high,” LeBlanc says. “They’re taking that data and trying to impose stuff on a lobster industry that somehow we’re going to have a role in saving or enhancing the cusk stock. It’s almost ridiculous.”
Berry says a lower lobster licence fee has been dangled as a carrot. He argues any licence fee savings would not offset the loss of fewer traps and closed fishing areas.
“I don’t think they’re really calculating the dramatic affect this could have economically on LFA 34 and the communities,” he says. “We believe in science. But from time to time some science is just way too shady.
“The other frustrating part is at the end of the day, even if they implement the scenarios, they don’t know if they can measure success. If it’s helping by taking 37 pots away from fishermen, or implement a closed area,” he adds. “They don’t know if it’ll help the recovery of the cusk stock.”
Coldwater says there are other issues that require a strong industry voice, like offshore oil drilling and owner operator policies. LeBlanc says a concern with owner operator is the potential impact of fathers who want to hand down their licences to their sons.
“Owner-operator, one guy owns his licence, operates his boat, it’s fine. It was what southwest Nova Scotia has been asking for for some time. But if a father wants to hand down his licence to son, DFO doesn’t take into account family planning, financial planning, tax planning,” he says. “To own a licence you need 100 per cent ownership in their eyes. So if my father wanted to sell me his licence over time and say I’ll sell you bit but bit, give me $40,000 each year, but with DFO it don’t fly. DFO is saying 100 per cent ownership but not thinking about the implications.”
Industry, he says, needs to have it concerns heard on issues like this.
LeBlanc says the association was formed at a time when things in the lobster industry are relatively good. In good times, he says, people tend not to think about joining associations, nor do they want to spend their money. Joining Coldwater Lobster Association is $450 plus HST.
For those not concerned by the strength in numbers argument, LeBlanc says this, “You can either help steer and part of this association, or you can look back in years time when it’s too late and complain about what you lost, or what you got imposed.”