New Brunswick

Some go home with more money in their pockets, some less, as fishing season ends

Fishermen say it's been a roller-coaster season, with new measures imposed by the federal government to protect endangered north Atlantic right whales after a deadly summer.

Most areas will close to lobster and snow crab fishing on Saturday

Daniel McConnell is worried about the months ahead. (CBC)

Lobster and crab fishermen in northern New Brunswick are removing their gear from the water Friday, as the season draws to a close.

Saturday marks the official end to what fishermen described as a roller-coaster season in the Acadian Peninsula.

All areas close to fishing on June 30, except for Neguac and Burnt Church, where the lobster season was extended until July 2.

There were outcries and protests from the fishing community throughout the season, over new measures imposed by the federal government to protect endangered north Atlantic right whales, after a historically deadly summer.

At the end of this eventful season, the feelings are mixed.

Lobster cages are piling up on the docks in Petit-Rocher and elsewhere as captains get ready to bring them home for the season. (Gabrielle Fahmy)

About 200 lobster fishermen in the Miscou area and some workers at snow crab processing plants around the Acadian Peninsula are going home with less money in their pockets, and an uncertain few months ahead.

Meanwhile, for the rest of the industry, the season was a good one.

Miscou struggles

Two weeks ago, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans ordered the closure of fishing grounds in the coastal waters near Miscou, after federal scientists spotted five north Atlantic right whales swimming between Miscou and Gaspé.

About five fishing boats in Miscou called it quits, saying it wasn't worth trying to squeeze into the small area left.

Robert Power, a lobster captain, kept on fishing with his crew. He said the last two weeks have been stressful.

Robert Power, a lobster boat captain, says his crew lost gear because of the restrictions this season. (CBC)

"We had to move in with our neighbours, and lost a lot of buoys, lost a lot of traps, lost a lot of gear … just because of someone that didn't want to listen to the fishermen," said Power, talking about Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

Power estimates the closures cost him 20 per cent of his yearly salary. He said the catches in the past two weeks were low, with many boats trying to fish lobster in the same area. He said on some days he caught only 300 to 400 pounds.

Daniel McConnell, a deckhand on a lobster boat in Miscou, worries about the months ahead. Like many crew members, he also fishes herring in the fall to get by.

Fishermen in Miscou were bringing their traps home for the season Friday. (CBC)

But if the closures stay in place, he doesn't think the boats will go out fishing.

"I think it's ridiculous," said McConnell.

"I don't know what I'm going to do. Us we're not captains, we're only deckman."

$84 million and counting

The snow crab season got off to a slow start, with fishermen bringing in less crab as they adjusted to the new measures.

That hurt fish plant workers, who didn't work enough hours to qualify for employment insurance.

As a result, some employers decided to set up a paid training program for the summer to make it up to them. The plant owners and the federal government are sharing the costs 50-50.

Gilles Theriault, general manager of McGraw Seafood, a snow crab processing plant in Tracadie, is in the process of setting one up.

He said plant workers are hurting, but admits others in the snow crab industry ended up having a good season, despite the closures.

Gilles Theriault, general manager of McGraw Seafood, is setting up a training program for employees so they can make up for lost hours. (CBC)

His plant produced somewhere between three to four million pounds of snow crab this year.

"It wasn't as bad as it could have been," McGraw said. "At the end we'll finish by catching our quota, which is something that certainly wasn't evident at the start of the season.

"So it's been a roller-coaster year. 

As of Wednesday, the value of snow crab landings for New Brunswick was estimated at $84 million by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and nearly 100 per cent of the fishing quota was met.

Some fish plant workers will come up short qualifying for employment insurance unless they take the training. (Gabrielle Fahmy)

A meeting between industry and Fisheries and Oceans is planned for the fall.

The industry hopes with no right whale deaths in Canadian waters this year, and more information on the whales' behaviour, there won't be as many surprises next season.

Work is also being done to introduce ropeless equipment, so whales won't get entangled.

Meanwhile, the Department of Fisheries said it is investigating 33 licence holders who have left cases in zones that were closed to fishing for the protection of north Atlantic right whales.


Gabrielle Fahmy is a reporter based in Moncton. She's been a journalist with the CBC since 2014.