Controversial bycatch monitoring program coming to Maritime lobster industry

Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans is rolling out a controversial bycatch monitoring program in three lobster fishing areas in Nova Scotia, but it won't say when the program will be introduced across the Maritimes.

'I don't know one fisherman who wants it,' says fishermen's group representative

DFO says the program will collect data on species such as cod, cusk and Jonah crab that are inadvertently being caught in lobster traps. (The Associated Press)

Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans is rolling out a controversial bycatch monitoring program in three lobster fishing areas in Nova Scotia, but it won't say when the program will be introduced across the Maritimes.

The department is imposing at-sea monitors for the first time this fall in three lobster fishing districts in Nova Scotia from Halifax to Digby.

The department said it needs to collect data on other species — such as cod, cusk and Jonah crab — that are inadvertently being caught in lobster traps, which is known as bycatch.

The question is when the monitoring will roll out elsewhere.

"Decisions will be made in the near future," said Sara Quigley, DFO's senior adviser for lobster in the Maritimes. "We are consulting with the industry and we are going to work out those dates with them."

The issue is on the minds of Maritime fishermen and industry representatives who met DFO officials on Thursday in Halifax. The introduction has triggered anger and resentment among some lobster fishermen.

"I don't know one fisherman who wants it. No, not one," said Laurence Cook of Lobster Fishing Area 38 off Grand Manan, N.B.

"We don't have a qualm with recording bycatch, it's the extra cost and the safety difficulties that come from carrying monitors on lobster vessels at a busy time of year."

Laurence Cook says one of his concerns is the cost of having monitors on board lobster boats. (CBC)

Fishermen in lobster fishing areas 33, 34 and 35 in Nova Scotia have two options. They can use an existing DFO at-sea observer program or one developed by five fishing organizations.

The association plan costs $499 per year. Once a season, a technician employed by the association will go on board with two or three days notice.

Under the DFO program, fishermen will have to notify the government six hours before they leave port — a process known as "hailing out" — and then find out if they are randomly selected to have an at-sea observer from a company assigned to them.

Fishermen have complained this system — with the potential for a six-hour wait for an observer — is impractical given the short weather windows in the winter lobster season.

Sara Quigley, DFO's senior lobster adviser in the Maritimes, says it is consulting with the lobster industry to work out the dates for introducing the bycatch monitoring program. (CBC)

They have also questioned whether DFO and the two at-sea observer companies will have the capacity to deliver the science coverage DFO says it needs.

"There are so many lobster fishers in Atlantic Canada the system will bog down," said Cook. "People are afraid that they have to come into the wharf and wait a long time."

Quigley notes bycatch monitoring is a standard requirement in other fisheries.

"We have done a lot of work with partners to deliver what we need," she said. "We will get there. It will be a process of trial and evaluation."

About the Author

Paul Withers

Reporter

Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.