PEI

Spring lobster season starts May 15

After weeks of uncertainty, Ottawa has set a date for the opening of the spring lobster season.

Federal fisheries department makes the call

Lobster traps and boat ready to go, at the wharf in North Rustico April 21, 2020. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

After weeks of uncertainty, Ottawa has set a date. Spring lobster fishing season starts May 15 and ends June 30.

The announcement on fishing dates in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, was issued Wednesday in Moncton by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 

The May 15 start date applies to lobster fishing areas 23, 24, 26A and 26B — which includes the areas on the coast of northern New Brunswick, the north shore of P.E.I., the western coast of Cape Breton, as well as part of the Northumberland Strait. The season will begin at 6 a.m. subject to weather conditions.

The spring lobster fishery in areas 23, 24 and 26 will go ahead May 15. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

The May 15 start date represents a delay of about two weeks from the normal start date of April 30.

Fisheries workers are deemed essential workers during the pandemic, but debate among local fishing groups over start dates had continued for weeks. The delay is seen as a means of slowing the progress of COVID-19 as it may prove challenging to maintain social distancing on lobster boats.

"The Government of Canada is taking the necessary steps to ensure that you can continue to operate safely and effectively and we will continue to keep you informed of the latest developments," reads part of a written statement issued by the government.

Ottawa had asked local fishing groups to suggest start dates, and said it would issue a delay based on any requests received.

PEIFA reccommended other dates

Wednesday's announcement followed a weekend vote by members of the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association. That vote showed preferences for start dates earlier that May 15.

PEIFA's executive director Ian MacPherson said there was some frustration among the fishermen but now they can move on to other issues.

"We've had a lot of uncertainty — not just on the island but in northern Nova Scotia and also New Brunswick as to when the season would start so now you've got clarity on that," MacPherson said.

Fishermen can now prepare for the season with the start date of May 15 chosen. (John Robertson/CBC)

He said there are a number of other issues that the industry must prepare for.

"This is just one thing off the table," MacPherson said. "People can start to get ready but items such as price, will there be restrictions with product coming in, those kinds of things still need to be discussed."

DFO chose one shared date

The minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada said in a written statement the one shared date for the three LFA was to ensure "continued cooperation across the industry."

"The additional time will enable processing plants to prepare their facilities and workforce for the upcoming season, and allow everyone across the industry to put in place the necessary health and safety measures in response to COVID-19," said federal minister Bernadette Jordan in the statement.

Jordan MacDougall, president of the Inverness South Fishermen's Association on the west coast of Cape Breton, said the decision to move the date was a surprise to him.

"I really didn't see that one coming ... one of the main concerns is the season will only be six weeks," he said, adding that he fears this won't be enough hours to qualify for EI in the off-season.

"Also, there's other LFAs on the eastern shore that just started, and they're having a big concern that the market will be filled up by the time we go. It seems to be their major concern."

COVID concerns

P.E.I.'s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison said in her daily briefing that her office is already working with the industry — both on vessel and processing — to prepare for the start of the spring lobster fishing season.

"That work has already started with the Department of Fisheries and the association and that will continue over the days ahead," Morrison said.

She expects the guidelines for the industry to finalized by the end of the week.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Matthew Moore

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