Lonnie Snow Photo

An at-sea data collection program that will monitor by-catch in the lobster fishery will be starting this fall in southwestern Nova Scotia.

More than half the licence holders in lobster fishing areas (LFAs) 33, 34 and 35 have signed up to participate in the industry-led pilot program for data collection, while the remaining fishermen will participate in the DFO-led, at-sea observer program.

To fulfill the requirements of an at-sea data collection program in the lobster fishery, the Coldwater Lobster Association, the Scotia Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association, the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association, the Maritime Fishermen’s Union (MFU) Local 9 and the Brazil Rock 33/34 Association have formed the South West Lobster Science Society as an umbrella group to facilitate the data collection.

“We’re really happy to be able to operate with the other associations to make a pilot program,” said Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association spokesperson Colin Sproul.

“It’s not something we would have been able to pull off alone and it’s a lot better deal for fishermen than hailing in and hailing out. It’s a really good deal for fishermen. It’s cheaper than hiring private monitoring companies and way less cumbersome,” adding hailing in or hailing out is “totally impractical in LFA 35 because of the tides that we have.”

Bernie Barry, president of the Coldwater Lobster Association, said how the Lobster Science Society program will work is licence holders chosen to take a technician will be contacted three days ahead of time to set up a date and time that works.

“Every day there will be boats that will have technicians onboard, but it won’t be every boat. Through the associations’ plan, maybe a fisherman might take a technician once a season. Everything’s got to be spaced apart and cover the whole area,” said Barry.

“I think its going to go really well. We choose so many each month and hopefully by the end of season we will reach our one percent target,” noting the program will generate a lot of data.

“We’re talking well in excess of 500 trips throughout the season.”

Sproul said there’s “two big take-homes every fisherman in LFA 33, 34 and 35 should remember” about the industry led initiative.

“The first is, it’s one of the first instances where we’ve all come together and cooperated on something and the end result is a better deal for fishermen. The second is, we’re showing DFO we’re capable of managing this fishery. We’re starting with a small piece. We’re starting with by-catch observing but none of us are satisfied with stopping there. One day fishermen will achieve management of this fishery themselves and when we do we will have better conservation and better landings and more money in fishermen’s pockets and more security for the future. We really need to do this to show DFO we’re capable of managing this fishery.”

Sproul said he thinks after a year, “you will see even more uptake from fishermen” into the Lobster Science Society.

“Fishermen have carved off for the first time a small piece of the management of their own fishery and are going to prove to DFO and the conservation community that we’re capable of managing our own fishery and we’re not going to be happy to stop at by-catch monitoring.”

The Lobster Science Society is not the only project the five associations have been working on. Last month they co-hosted the third annual Southwest Lobster Forum in Yarmouth.

“All these different associations choosing to get together and start the lobster forum to talk about issues that are important to all fishermen regardless of what their deal is has led to good things for fishermen,” said Sproul, “and has given DFO a place to come and talk to fishermen.”