Latest fishing area closures raise fears about fights over shrinking territory

Exasperated by the federal government’s closures of fishing grounds, fisherman and plant workers from across the Acadian Peninsula held an emergency meeting Tuesday to discuss their options.

About 300 New Brunswick fishermen attended emergency meeting to discuss options

About 300 fishermen from across the Acadian Peninsula held an emergency meeting Tuesday to discuss the latest fishing area closure and their options. (Radio-Canada )

Exasperated by the federal government's closures of fishing grounds, fishermen and plant workers from across New Brunswick's Acadian Peninsula held an emergency meeting Tuesday on Lameque Island to discuss their options.

Afterwards, some said they were worried the latest closure would lead to fights over what little territory they have left. 

The meeting came after another round of fishing area closures was announced Monday, after five North American right whales were seen between Miscou and the Gaspe Peninsula.

It was the the sixth closure since the beginning of the season.

According to some fishermen, this closure is the worst one yet because of its proximity to where they fish.

A map showing the fishing area closures. (CBC )

Hard to grasp

Carl Allen, president of Maritime Fishermen's Union, said the fishermen are trying to be patient, but are having a hard time understanding the rationale for this latest closure.

Many of them have been fishing near Miscou for years, and have never come across the whales.

Carl Allen is the president of the Maritime Fishermen's Union. (Gabrielle Fahmy/CBC )

"For them that's the part they just can't understand. Where is this coming from?" he said.

"It would be different if they had a history of interacting with these whales traditionally, but for them, they haven't. So it's just really hard to fathom."

The fishermen are losing about 15 days out of the 60 day spring fishing season due to the closures, so it's a significant loss of income, he said.

"We're talking about 25 per cent of their annual income is out the window," he said.

"It's not a fun thing to have happen to you."

At this point, he said he's not really sure what the next steps are for his organization. 

Shrinking territory

James Stewart is a lobster fishermen in Miscou. He says he's had a lot of sleepless nights over the closures. (Gabrielle Fahmy/CBC )

With so few areas left to fish, fisherman are also getting concerned that they'll be fighting over territory.

James Stewart, a lobster fishermen in Miscou, said he will likely move his traps to another area that is traditionally used by other fishermen

"So we're going to be tight there, really tight," he said.

In 25 years of fishing, he said he's never had to deal with a situation like this.

"I'm telling you, I'm having a hard time to sleep and I'm smoking cigarettes like hell," he said.

Possible make-up for lost time 

Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc says he's considering making up for the lost dates in the spring fishing season by reopening fishing areas for a few days in the fall. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

While his department is considering ways to alleviate the economic hardship caused by the ongoing protection measures, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Dominic Leblanc said financial compensation is not one of them. 

"At the moment we are not talking about compensating with actual financial compensation the fishermen," LeBlanc said Tuesday.

He said he's sensitive to the impact the closures could have on plant workers, and will work with industry members to see what Ottawa can do.

He said he is looking at ways to help processing plant workers qualify for Employment Insurance and will also consider making up for the closures by adding dates to the fall season.

He said his department plans to consult with the fishermen in the coming weeks to see if this would be possible.

"I'm not insensitive at all the economic concerns. I get that a 15-day closure in the last 19 days of a season for these 105 or 107 fishermen is a serious concern," he said.

"That's why, hopefully, we can replace the fishing time."

However, on Tuesday, both Allen and Stewart said they didn't see how replacing the lost days in the fall would work.

"We don't have the scientific data to support a lobster fishery in the fall, so for us, it's not acceptable," Allen said.

with files from Gabrielle Fahmy and Canadian Press