Fishermen propose 'flexible' closures to protect whales and livelihoods

Lobster fishermen are asking Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc to consider a proposal that would allow them to continue fishing close to the shore of northeastern New Brunswick.

Fishermen say strict rules 'killing the economic engine of the Acadian Peninsula'

Pierre Larocque is one of about 25 lobster fishermen who have to find a new place to fish off the coast of northeastern New Brunswick as more areas are closed to protect North Atlantic right whale population. (Radio-Canada)

Lobster fishermen are asking Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc to consider a proposal that would allow them to continue fishing close to the shores of northeastern New Brunswick even if whales are spotted in the area.

The proposal comes as fishermen become increasingly anxious about their shrinking fishing grounds as more areas close Wednesday afternoon after endangered right whales were spotted.

Martin Mallet, executive director of the Maritime Fishermen's Union, met with about 100 fishermen in Sainte-Marie-Saint-Raphaël on Tuesday evening.

"It's not the end of the world," he said of the most recent closure, which will last for a minimum of 15 days.

"What is really a problem for us is if there's further closures close to shore. Then if our fishermen don't have any more space to move to they will not be able to fish lobster on the wharf."

Proposal sent to minister

In an attempt to be prepared for future closures, which could be closer to the shores of the Acadian Peninsula, the fishermen are asking for what Mallet calls, "co-habitation with the whales."

We're trying to keep a positive attitude but to have this constant pressure like a sword of Damocles over your head ... it's hard.- Pierre Larocque, fisherman

Mallet said fishermen want to be able to continue fishing in water up to a maximum depth of 60 feet (about 18 metres) or 10 fathoms, even in areas that have been closed.

"There's no historical data showing that the whales in the past few years, and even this year up to now, move farther inshore than about 120 feet or 20 fathoms," he said.

"So in this sense fishermen would be able to continue their fishing up until the end of the season and the whales would be able to do their thing until we finish our season."

Lobster fisherman Lloyd Ward said he wants to protect the whales but he also wants to protect his livelihood. Fishermen are asking DFO to be flexible if fishing areas near the coast are closed. (Radio-Canada)
Lloyd Ward, who is one of about 25 lobster fishermen in the area who had to move their traps, was at Tuesday night's meeting.

"We're not talking about a baseball field here," he said of the fishing areas that have been closed.

"We're talking about just one area that can contain up to half of the town of Lamèque … if we close four to five, even six areas — you're closing down fishing. You're killing the economic engine of the Acadian Peninsula. You have to think twice about it."

Hope to protect whales, livelihood

Ward said fishermen are willing to help to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whales but not to give up their livelihoods completely.

"All the fishermen, I would tell you up to 90 per cent of us, we want to protect whales. They're our friends."

Fishermen are asking Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc to consider a proposal that would allow them to continue fishing near the shore in areas closed to protect right whales. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)
Pierre Larocque, who fishes lobster off Pigeon Hill agreed and said he's concerned the fishing areas that remain open will become more and more crowded.

"The closer we are to one another, the faster the resource is fished out," he said. "The boats will become closer to one another and it won't take much for sparks to fly and fights can happen easily."

Mallet said this first closure won't cause any big problems since there is still space for fishermen to move.

"We're trying to keep a positive attitude," Larocque said. "But to have this constant pressure like a sword of Damocles over your head … it's hard."

with files from Radio-Canada and Gabrielle Fahmy