Nova Scotia

Decades-old DFO policy preventing aging fishermen from selling lobster licences

A group of fishermen says it's not fair they have nothing to show or leave behind after decades in the industry.

A group of fishermen has launched a letter-writing campaign to persuade DFO to change policy

The Class B fishermen say they disagree with the way they're being categorized, saying they do depend on the fishery. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

A group of aging fishermen is lobbying Fisheries and Oceans Canada to change a 45-year-old policy preventing them from selling off or handing down their lobster licences to future generations.

The fishermen say it's not fair they have nothing to show or leave behind after decades in the industry.

"I have two adults, special needs … I want to make life easier for them after I leave this world, so they can be looked after," said Donald Publicover of Brookside, N.S.

Publicover, 70, is one of the 80 fishermen in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick who have been fishing for almost 50 years and have what's known as a Category B lobster fishing licence. That type of licence cannot be transferred, leaving it to expire upon death of the holder.

Moonlighter policy

DFO created the licence in 1976 as part of its moonlighter policy, which was aimed at removing people from the fishery in the name of conservation. But critics say the policy unfairly targeted so-called Class B fishermen who, despite a historical attachment to the fishery, held other jobs and did not depend on the fishery for their primary source of income.

The licences cannot be sold and have a capacity of 75 traps per licence, roughly a third of the capacity of Category A licences, which were given to fishermen who were fully dependent on the fishery.

Publicover said fishing alone did not provide people with enough money to support themselves and their families, so often he and other local fishermen would work other jobs, including in fish plants, to make ends meet.

Letter-writing campaign

Now a group of 20 to 30 fishermen has launched a website and letter-writing campaign to various ministers, including Joyce Murray, the newly appointed fisheries minister.

The fishermen say they feel as though they are being continuously punished by an arbitrary and outdated policy.

"Now's the time to make the change and allow these licence holders to decide what they wish to do with the licence," said Michel Samson of Cox and Palmer, the law firm working with the Category B licence holders on their lobbying effort.

Samson said the fishermen would accept a simple policy change allowing them to sell their licence or take a buyout from DFO.

Publicover said on average, a Category B licence is valued at anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000 based on the earning potential.

Time of the essence

Samson said time is of the essence when it comes to changing the policy given the age of Class B fishermen, some of whom have died without being able to pass on their licence. As licence holders die, the benefit of the licence is lost, as well.

"We certainly hope that DFO with the new minister … that she's going to immediately see that this is a change that needs to be made now and not wait for more licence holders to pass away before doing the right thing," said Samson.

DFO told CBC News in an emailed statement Dec. 8 that it has "no plans to revisit the Maritimes region commercial fisheries licensing policy in relation to Category B lobster licences."


Feleshia Chandler is a journalist based in Halifax. She loves helping people tell their stories and has interests in issues surrounding LGBTQ+ people as well as Black, Indigenous and people of colour. You can reach her at