Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker wants to know what the P.E.I. government is doing to protect the herring stocks in island waters.
“Just over a decade ago in 2004, fishers in the Souris area fought hard to protect the herring stock from seiners, yet today fishers are reporting herring stocks are collapsing in Prince Edward Island waters,” Bevan-Baker said while asking Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Alan McIsaac about the health of the herring stocks.
McIsaac says his department works with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which sets the quota for all species, as well as the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association. He says the stocks of all species are examined and then the federal department decides what the quota will be for the next year.
“I infer from the answer that herring stocks are, indeed, shrinking,” Bevan-Baker says. “Herring is a critical element of the gulf marine ecosystem and it’s used extensively for bait in our lobster industry, as well as being an essential food source for whales, dolphins, sharks and particularly tuna.”
Bevan-Baker says the winner of the Premier’s Cup in 2016 (the trophy is awarded for the largest tuna caught in Island waters each year) sold his fish for only $1.25 per pound and lost money because of the cost of freight. However, Bevan-Baker argues the catch also meant the loss of a prime breeding fish. He is calling on McIsaac to institute a moratorium on taking mature breeding tuna, asking for big spawners to be protected as is done with some other large predatory fish.
McIsaac agrees size isn’t always the major determining factor in the price of tuna, but maintains the health of all stocks is monitored on a continuing basis, saying everybody connected with the industry is anxious to avoid another situation like the collapse of the cod fishery in Atlantic Canada in the 1980s.
“We don’t want anything like that happening again,” the minister says. “We will work with all the partners in this fishery to make sure the future is very bright.”
Bevan-Baker cites a study by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which asserts 85 per cent of global fish stocks are either overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion. He wants McIsaac to mount a full-scale independent study of the marine ecosystem surrounding Prince Edward Island.
McIsaac says the federal government has reached this year’s goal of including five per cent of marine protected areas in the national system. He says efforts are now focused on reaching the 10 per cent mark by 2020. He also points out there’s a marine protected area, right now, off Basin Head in the eastern part of the province.