P.E.I.'s crab fishery OK with new rules — as long as they don't get 'too drastic'

The P.E.I. Snow Crab Association, as well as the province's fisheries minister, say new rope rules are a welcome step forward in protecting endangered right whales.

Rules put in place to help protect right whale population

The new measures will take effect immediately and will be enforced 'very aggressively,' says Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominc LeBlanc. (Maxime Corneau/Radio-Canada)

The P.E.I. Snow Crab Association, as well as the province's fisheries minister, say new rope rules are a welcome measure in protecting endangered right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Department of Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc announced Tuesday in Moncton immediate rule changes to the crab fishery in an attempt to further protect the whale population.

Some of these changes include implementing a maximum rope length, ensuring all ropes are colour coded and weighted, as well as having buoys marked with a sequential number so individual traps can be identified.

It shows that the industry is taking this issue seriously and they're willing to work with DFO and the province.— Robert Henderson

Carter Hutt, the president of the P.E.I. Snow Crab Association, says most of the new fishing rules came from stakeholders in the industry and won't significantly affect Island fisherman.

Regarding rope rules, Hutt said most Island vessels don't have ropes longer than two metres anyway and that most fisherman have weighted ropes to begin with. 

"With your leaded rope in the centre, it keeps everything sunk," he said. 

"There's probably a few fishermen that might have to adjust their rope, but the majority of the traditional fleet already have that leaded rope now."

Reporting lost gear 'a good thing' for fisherman

The fourth rule change includes the mandatory reporting of all lost fishing gear.

Though Hutt said he's only lost roughly four traps in the last few years, he said reporting lost gear is a great measure to protect whales as well as help fisherman get back their lost property.

"To come up with a way to retrieve lost gear, that would be a good idea, a good thing," he said.

Carter Hutt is pleased with the new rule changes but says if rules around traps are changed it may have a drastic effect on the industry. (CBC)

"Usually what happens is the buoy gets broken off at the surface and it leaves a lot of rope. The rope off the trap can be swinging in the tide and the whale could get entangled in the rope — so if there's a way to retrieve it, that'd be great."

The federal government announced only the four new changes but hinted at other changes on the way in the coming weeks.

"There's more discussions ongoing, but we're not sure what's going to be introduced, if there will be more more drastic measures," Hutt said. 

"There's been discussion of less ropes in the water.  If there's going to be less ropes, that means less traps in the water, and that would have a major impact on our expenses."

'We're hoping they don't get too drastic'

For now, Hutt said, fisherman are continuing to discuss potential changes to the industry with the the province and DFO, although, he added, the industry "has to survive as well."

"We're hoping they don't get too drastic with the measures here," he said.

Necropsies on seven of the carcasses determined four whales died of blunt force trauma from collisions with ships, while the other three likely died from entanglements in fishing gear. (Canadian Whale Institute/New England Aquarium)

Robert Henderson, the province's new fisheries minister, said DFO's new rules "seem relativity reasonable" and that it shouldn't cause concern for Island crab fisherman.

"It shows that the industry is taking this issue seriously and they're willing to work with DFO and the province to make sure that we can come up with strategies that will help mitigate this from happening in the future," Henderson said.

"We certainly don't want to see right whales perish in any capacity here, so I think there's a compassion on any endangered species to make sure they're protected."

With files from Steve Bruce