Lobster fishing season in northern New Brunswick delayed 2 weeks
Season will open May 15
The lobster season in Lobster Fishing Area 23, which runs from Miramichi Bay to Chaleur Bay in northeastern New Brunswick, has been delayed by two weeks because of the impact of COVID-19 on the fishery.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans issued a notice Wednesday morning to fishermen advising them of the delay. It affects about 665 licensed lobster harvesters in four zones.
The season, which was to open on May 1, will now open on May 15 at 6 a.m. and close on June 30. The decision also affects the lobster fisheries in LFAs 24 and 26 in the north shore of P.E.I. as well as part of the Northumberland Strait.
"The additional time will enable processing plants to prepare their facilities and workforce for the upcoming season, and allow everyone across the industry to put in place the necessary health and safety measures in response to COVID-19," said Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan in an emailed statement.
No extension of the season has been approved but DFO says the possibility is not off the table.
"At this time DFO is focused on ensuring the industry has a smooth and safe start to the 2020 season, and no decisions have been made to date regarding season extensions," Jordan said.
DFO said requests for season extensions will be considered at a later date and will be based on science and the health and conservation of the stock in mind.
Maritime Fishermen's Union president, Gaetan Robichaud said the delay is what most fishermen wanted when surveyed over the past few weeks and a request was made to DFO to delay it until May 15.
P.E.I. lobster fishermen in LFAs 24 and 26 recommended two different dates - May 6 and May 13 but DFO said it decided to have a shared opening date for all three zones "helping ensure continued cooperation across the industry" a release from DFO said.
Financial help requested
Robichaud said they are now waiting to see if an aid package will be announced to assist fishermen with interest free loans to help with expenses as fishermen prepared not knowing if the season would go ahead or be delayed.
He said they also are wondering if access to the wage subsidy for employees would be adapted to the fishing industry and if there would be aid for new entrants to the fishing industry.
"All the aid that's been announced by the government of Canada to enterprises...it's not adapted to the seasonal fishery so we've been working very hard on that over the past few weeks. We need an aid package that's going to bring us to the next season."
With uncertainty around how much buyers will purchase, how much processors can process in the plants, and the state of the market, Robichaud said they need to know some financial aid will be available.
"They're really, really worried," said Robichaud of the MFU members. "We're worried about the quantity of lobster we're going to be able to bring to the wharves, are we going to be able to sell to our buyers, are we going to have daily limits?"
A fishermen himself in Neguac, he said they haven't heard much from the processing industry.
"We don't have much information on the price."
DFO has previously said it has asked for specific support for the fishing sector.
Processed lobster is usually sold to casinos, cruise lines and restaurants but many of those places are not operating during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Fishermen are really worried about how long they are going to be able to fish. It's all questions that we don't have answers to and we need that."
Robichaud said they are waiting to hear from WorksafeNB for the guidelines on how they will operate safely on the boats and how the processing plants will operate. Even limiting access to the wharves is something that has to be considered.
The two weeks will give them to prepare, he added.