New Brunswick

Acadian crabbers hopeful fishery will get certification back

A representative of Acadian crab fishermen says the environmentally sustainable stamp suspension could be a lot worse.

Suspension comes after 2 whale deaths were found to have been caused by crab fishery gear

Robert Hache, director general of the Acadian Crabbers Association, said he doesn’t believe the suspension will impact the $100-million industry very much. (Maxime Corneau/Radio-Canada)

A representative of Acadian crab fishermen says the temporary loss of a "sustainable" stamp of approval on the catch  likely won't have much impact.

As the snow crab fishery in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence prepares to open next month, the Marine Stewardship Council has announced a suspension of its certification of the fishery as environmentally sustainable.

The council said it took the step Tuesday because the deaths of two North Atlantic right whales last year were blamed on entanglement in fishing gear. Necropsies were done on six whales during an especially deadly year for the endangered mammals.

Robert Haché, director general of the Acadian Crabbers Association, said he doesn't believe the suspension will hurt the snow crab industry, but he acknowledged the fishery has to find a solution to the risks it may pose to whales.

Expects 'minor' impact

"The impact is going to be relatively minor at this time," Haché said.

"Obviously, if the fishery had been decertified, that's a different kind of thing."

Haché acknowledged the fishery has to find a solution to the risks it may pose to whales and said he was confident it will come up with a plan to satisfy the Marine Stewardship Council.

Snow crab caught in the southern gulf is worth about $129 million a year, of which New Brunswick's share is about $75 million.

Whale deaths

Only about 400 North Atlantic right whales remain, and at least 12 died in Canadian waters last year. Five died in U.S. waters.

According to the Marine Stewardship Council, one of the dead whales in Canada was found entangled in commercial snow crab gear, and another was found dead in gear that included a snow crab trap the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said had not been in use for eight to 10 years.

Jay Lugar, the program director for the council, said that when fisheries have a negative impact on whales, they don't meet the council's certified standard.

"The standard would call for the fishery to make sure that's not harming the regrowth of these endangered species," Lugar said. 

"In order for this fishery to regain use of its certificate ... it must establish and present to the independent certifier evidence that it's no longer causing harm to the population of right whales."

Lugar said it's up to the fishery, working with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, to establish measures that can make that claim.

'Technical jargon'

While he's confident the industry will "come up with an action plan that will satisfy the Marine Stewardship," Haché said he couldn't say what the changes will be since he's not yet sure what the council needs.

"We know that there has been a couple of whales that died because of entanglement on snow crab fishing gear, in the same way as lobster fishing gear and ships strikes on whales," he said.

He said he doesn't yet understand what he called the "technical jargon" of the Marine Stewardship Council, whose stamp is a signal to consumers that seafood was caught in an environmentally sound way.

"I would have to wait and see what are the areas that are problematic and need to be addressed," Haché said. "At this time I could not tell you."

With files from Paul Withers