New Brunswick

Lobster fishery hoping for federal $$ to recover gear lost to Fiona

The Maritime Fishermen's Union says it's working on a plan to retrieve up to thousands of lobster traps that were lost by fishermen in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island during post-tropical storm Fiona.

A few thousand lobster traps still lost, says Maritime Fishermen's Union

The Maritime Fishermen's Union says it plans on leading an effort to recover a few thousand lobster traps that were lost to post-tropical storm Fiona. (Laura Meader/CBC)

A plan is in the works to try to retrieve potentially thousands of lobster traps that were lost during post-tropical storm Fiona nearly two weeks ago.

The storm, which battered Atlantic Canada with high winds and storm surges, resulted in tens of thousands of traps being damaged and lost in the Northumberland Strait, where fishermen in southeastern New Brunswick and northwestern Prince Edward Island are currently fishing.

Luc LeBlanc, a fisheries adviser with the Maritime Fishermen's Union, said while many traps have been recovered since the storm, "a few thousand" are still missing, and a plan is being worked out to find them and bring them ashore once the lobster season ends on Oct. 12.

"We're still working with the federal government to see how they can support us in this," LeBlanc said.

"We'll need some specialized equipment, but we have their commitment that they're going to co-operate with us."

Luc LeBlanc, a fisheries adviser with the Maritime Fishermen's Union, said he's hoping recently announced federal funding will go towards the cost associated with fishermen having to recover and replace their lost and damaged lobster traps. (Olivier Lefebvre/Radio-Canada)

LeBlanc said there's indication help is on its way from Ottawa with its announcement of $300 million for cleaning up and rebuilding infrastructure damaged by Fiona.

In a statement, Fisheries and Oceans Minister Joyce Murray referred to the "tremendous" loss for fishermen in Atlantic Canada, including the loss of gear and damage to small-craft harbours.

"Today's announcement is an important step in cleaning up the ocean, and starting repairs at affected harbours," Murray said.

LeBlanc said he's still figuring out details about the federal package, but hopes it helps with recovering lost traps and replacing damaged ones.

CBC News asked Fisheries and Oceans Canada how it specifically plans to help lobster fishermen recover and replace lost and damaged traps and is awaiting a response.

Fred Whoriskey, a biologist with Dalhousie University's Ocean Tracking Network, said he doesn't think ghost gear created by the loss of lobster traps will have much of an impact on the lobster population in the Northumberland Strait. (CBC)

Last week, LeBlanc said the fishermen's union asked Ottawa for an extension that would see the fishing season end on Oct. 15, instead of Oct. 12, for Zone 25.

He said the union withdrew that request, as so many traps have been damaged and lost that fishermen wouldn't even be able to replace them within a reasonable timeframe to keep fishing.

"We've got seven or eight suppliers here in Atlantic Canada … so the issue is that these suppliers are simply unable to provide tens of thousands of traps within a week's time frame. It's simply unrealistic at this point," LeBlanc said.

Lost traps unlikely to harm lobster: biologists

Ghost gear is an issue across the fishing sector for the ocean pollution it contributes to, as well as the potential to harm and kill marine animals. According to the Fisheries and Oceans website, the term refers to "any fishing gear that has been abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded," such as nets, line, rope, traps, pots, and floats.

However, biologists say even if the traps don't all get recovered, it's unlikely they'll have a noticeable impact on the health of the lobster population off the coasts of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

"We're probably not looking at something that is going to have a significant impact on the lobster populations, although nobody wants to be harming any lobsters," said Fred Whoriskey, executive director of Dalhousie University's Ocean Tracking Network.

Whoriskey added that lobster populations have been doing well in recent years, so ghost traps won't likely do much damage to that.

Making any lost traps less of a threat is the requirement that they be made with degradable parts that fall off, allowing trapped animals to eventually get out, said Lyndsay Grace Walls, a doctoral student at Memorial University of Newfoundland, studying lobster foraging ecology.

A woman with glasses looks into the web camera on her laptop.
Lyndsay Grace Walls, a doctoral student in biology at Memorial University of Newfoundland, says lost traps create a risk because of the ropes that tie the traps to buoys floating on the surface of the ocean. (CBC)

Furthermore, a large majority of the lobster that do get into the traps are small enough to get back out.

"Ninety-five to 97 per cent that get in or show up to the trap, walk away," she said. "So I wouldn't say it's a big worry for the lobster fishermen that they're going to have all this lobster down at the bottom that they can't get."

Walls said a concern aside from the traps is the risk posed by the ropes that tie the traps to buoys floating on the surface of the ocean.

She said if a rope detaches from a trap, but is still connected to its buoy, it could pose a risk of entanglement to animals like North Atlantic right whales, which are already under threat.

"I wouldn't say every buoy is going to, you know, instantly attract a whale, but it can be problematic and just … any increase in ghost gear does pose an increased risk."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aidan Cox

Journalist

Aidan Cox is a journalist for the CBC based in Fredericton. He can be reached at aidan.cox@cbc.ca and followed on Twitter @Aidan4jrn.

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