Closure of 6 fishing areas postponed, but fishermen's frustration remains

Two days after the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said it would close six fishing areas, the closure to protect North Atlantic right whales has been postponed a day because of high winds.

All fishing gear must be removed by Wednesday afternoon as part of the Gulf of St. Lawrence closes temporarily

Carl Allen of the Maritime Fishermen's Union says members would like to be consulted about changes that could h ave such a big effect on their season. (Gabrielle Fahmy/CBC)

Two days after the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said it would close six fishing areas, the closure to protect North Atlantic right whales has been postponed a day because of high winds.

The six grids that were to close Tuesday will now stay open until Wednesday at 4 p.m., to give fishermen more time to remove all of their gear.

'When you have people in Ottawa … who have never had salt water sprayed in their face unless they were at the beach — they're the ones giving advice to make the decision and they have no idea."- Carl Allen, Maritime Fishermen's Union

The closure affects snow crab, toad crab, rock crab, lobster and whelk fisheries, the department said in a news release. It is also in effect for winter flounder and Atlantic halibut.

Carl Allen, president of the Maritime Fishermen's Union, said many in the industry are worried about getting their gear out of the water that quickly. The union has been tracking the right whales and was shocked to see them in the Gulf of St. Lawrence so soon.

"It leaves us kind of scrambling to react," he said. "We kind of hoped it would be a little later in the season."

With 25 per cent of the overall harvest normally coming out of the grids that have to close, unease among fishermen is growing.

Allen said there is also "increasing frustration" among his members because of the closure, which affects an area east of Miscou Island on the northeast coast of New Brunswick.

The Department of Fisheries made the decision after a surveillance flight spotted two of the endangered right whales swimming in the area.

"There's a lot of panic," Allen told Information Morning Moncton. "There's a lot of frustration and there's concern — where are [the whales] going to be tomorrow, what area are they going to be in the day after ... how many more quadrants are going to get closed?"

"And some of them might be starting to wonder, am I going to be able to get my allocation?" 

Some slow to see problem

Allen said no one in the fishing industry wants to see whales injured by entanglements.

"We want to protect them as much as anybody and after the events of last summer and the industry was the first ones to step forward and say, 'Here is what we think was part of the problem.'" 

He said floating rope was a big part of the problem, and many industry workers were asleep to the issue.

But the dynamic and static closures ordered by Ottawa came as a shock, he said. About a dozen boats are in the grids that are set to close.

One result of the closure could be over-fishing in areas where the fisherman may have to moved to.

"The gear becomes denser, the catch rate becomes lower."

Uncertainty is difficult

He said there is a lot of change coming very quickly without a lot of consultation.

"I think that's the part that puts people on edge more — is the not knowing."

Allen said his members want to be part of the discussion when decisions like this are made by the Department of Fisheries.

"It seems as though some of the people involved in the decision-making process have no concept of the reality of the fishery," he said.

"When you have people in Ottawa … who have never had salt water sprayed in their face unless they were at the beach — they're the ones giving advice to make the decision and they have no idea, no concept of the reality of the fishery and how it's executed and how things are done — that's very concerning."

Murray Vibert, a 25-year lobster fisherman, said it's a very scary situation for him.

"We don't want to see the whales," he said. "As far as closures for 15 days, it's a quarter of the season right there gone,  and you won't make that back."

Vibert said he's not sure Fisheries made the right decision.   

Flights continue

In a statement, the Fisheries Department said the government continues to undertake "extensive surveillance of many areas of Atlantic Canadian waters where North Atlantic right whales may be present over the coming months."

Fishing areas will only reopen after two surveillance flights have shown the whales have left the area.  

At least 18 North Atlantic right whales have been found dead since the winter of 2017 — 12 in Canadian waters and six in U.S. waters. 

Necropsies revealed the deaths were related to entanglements or ship strikes. 

With files from Shane Fowler

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