By-catch monitoring coming to inshore lobster fishery
Lobster association asks for understanding from fishermen as program prepares to launch
For the first time, inshore lobster fishermen in southwest Nova Scotia will have someone looking over their shoulders when they head out to sea later this fall.
It's a change many are unhappy about, causing fishermen to snub their own associations — some of which have banded together to create a monitoring program.
"We didn't want this. None of the associations wanted this, but we have tried to make it better," said Heather Mulock of the Coldwater Lobster Association on Wednesday.
The federal Fisheries Department wants to gauge how many species, particularly cod and cusk, are being inadvertently caught in lobster pots.
Fishermen turn on associations
By-catch monitoring requires an at-sea observer on board, which has raised the hackles of the area's notoriously independent fishermen.
Many have turned on their fishermen's associations, sniping in coffee shops and online, accusing the groups of being stooges to DFO or favouring offshore fishermen over those who fish closer to shore.
"There's definitely scepticism, there's no question about that," said Mulock, who was speaking at the third annual Lobster Forum in Yarmouth.
Mulock briefed fishermen on the status of the pilot project and spent much of her time debunking falsehoods about the program.
By-catch monitoring is being introduced in 2018 in Canada's largest lobster fishery from Halifax to the Bay of Fundy, known as Lobster Fishing Areas 33, 34 and 35.
How the pilot project will work
A small majority of fishermen — 52 per cent — have agreed to join the three-year pilot program developed by the Southwest Lobster Science Society, a creation of the fishermen's associations.
It will cost each fishermen $499 per year.
Once a season, a technician employed by the society will go aboard with two to three days' advanced notice.
"This will give them flexibility in scheduling and we will own the data. It will be analyzed by a university and we will know what's going on," said Mulock.
"This has been a huge undertaking for us. It's never been done before."
Notifications sent out last week
She said many fishermen did not believe DFO would carry through on mandatory by-catch monitoring. They received formal notification Sept. 11 and 12.
About 900 fishermen will use the existing DFO at-sea observer program.
Fishermen will pay a private company, working for DFO, to supply an observer. The cost is not known.
Digby Neck fisherman Mathew Theriault is in support of the pilot program even though he doesn't think by-catch is a threat.
"I know we don't do anything wrong but DFO doesn't believe me," said Theriault of the Brazil Rock Fishermen's Association
"I know other groups don't believe us. This will prove it to them."
Cost shared by Atlantic Fisheries Fund
The Southwest Lobster Science Society applied for funding under the federal government's $400-million Atlantic Fisheries Fund earlier this year.
The Lobster Forum was told Wednesday the application has been approved but not announced. The amount was not disclosed, pending the formal announcement.
Deadlines for fishermen to join the pilot project in 2018 closed months ago.
Fishermen who want to join, or opt out, are free to do so next year.