Fishermen accuse DFO of sinking progress

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YARMOUTH - Fishermen who are part of a lobster advisory committee found themselves questioning where the ‘advisory’ part comes in as they expressed frustration at a recent meeting over issues that seem to keep coming “down the hill” from DFO in Ottawa.

Lobster fisherman Bob Newell said a draft lobster tag replacement policy might save money on management, but it would increase costs in enforcement. That, he said, makes no sense.

And when DFO officials, based locally and provincially, were tasked with the selling job at a June 25 Lobster Fishing Area (LFAs) 34 Advisory Committee meeting in Yarmouth, the lobster port reps in the room from Yarmouth, Digby and Shelburne Counties, weren’t buying what was being sold.

The committee was presented with new drafts of a lobster tag replacement policy and an advisory committee terms of reference that, the fishermen were told, were part of an effort to come up with a more consistent policy that can apply to the fuller Maritime region as opposed to isolated LFAs.

The message was not well received by fishermen who said through the advisory committee they had, on some issues, spent years drafting and tweaking policies to best suit their own fishery. ‘One size fits all’ should  not apply, they said.

For instance, the draft lobster tag replacement policy stated the maximum number of lost tags that could be replaced, without the need of having an observer or fishery officer present, was 25 daily. But years ago the fishermen had settled on a policy that limited these lost tags to 25 per season. Lobster tags are affixed to traps to identify who is fishing them. Untagged traps are illegal, but so too are traps beyond the permitted number.

The draft policy also suggested that there would be no requirement for observer coverage if a full set of lobster tags needed to be replaced, which would be a departure from the existing policy. This was aimed at addressing the cost fishermen bear when they are required to have observer coverage.

But fishermen felt the drafted changes opened the door for abuse and the possibility of more illegal traps in the water. Fishermen questioned why DFO would want to create more enforcement work. Fisherman Bob Newell said if DFO is trying to save money in management, it’ll spend it on enforcement.

“The system that we had closed the door. This opens the door,” added fisherman Robert Hines. “We had a system that was working. We would like to keep the system that took years to achieve.”

He said DFO should not be suggesting alternatives to fix a system that isn’t broken.

“At what point does this become an advisory committee. Instead it’s an advising committee, where someone is always trying to sell something to the fishermen?” he said.

It was noted that given its size in terms of licences, along with the timing and duration of the season, LFA 34 is unique to other lobster fisheries and it should not be lumped into one pile of policies with everyone else.

 “I fully expected the reaction we received today,” said Anne Sweeney, DFO’s area chief of resource management for southwestern Nova Scotia. “However in order for me to officially state the position of the committee, I have to bring (this draft) to the committee.”

While the fishermen understood Sweeney’s position, they said time shouldn’t be wasted at every meeting discussing something that’s already been agreed to in the past.

Sweeney, who was just the messenger, said she would relay this message.

Meanwhile, the advisory committee decided to keep replacement tags at 25 per season and to continue to require observers if a full set of tags needs to be replaced. There will also be a clause dealing with extenuating circumstances so that fishermen don’t have to shell out hundreds of dollars to observers when they are replacing more than 25 tags, but are not replacing a full set. This decision came after fisherman Vincent Goreham noted he once had to pay $520 to have an observer present just to replace 43 tags. Sweeney and other DFO officials in the room agreed that with things like storms, gear damage and other extenuating circumstances, there should be flexibility for fishermen.

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