Members of the Southwest Lobster Science Society (SWLSS) say they are “frustrated and disappointed with the lack of direction, miscommunication and overall support from Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s (DFO) regional management” when it comes to the at-sea observer program to monitor bycatch in the lobster fishery being implemented this fall in LFAs 33, 34 and 35.
The SWLSS was formed last year by five fishermen’s associations: the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association, the Maritime Fishermen’s Union, the Coldwater Lobstermen’s Association, the Scotia Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association and Brazil Rock 33/34. The group originated when word came down the pipe that a bycatch monitoring program was going to be implemented in the lobster fishery to meet MSC (Marine Stewardship Certification) requirements and to comply with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (PSMA), signed in 2010 by Canada.
Discussions with industry overseeing the bycatch monitoring program began last August with several meetings with DFO regional management offering guidance and incentive. The SWLSS has put together an alternative at-sea observer plan for fishermen in the region that will collect supplementary scientific data to assist in conservation efforts but would do so without enforcing the hail out procedure enforced in other fisheries. The hail out system requires fishermen to phone an automated system at least six hours prior to leaving the wharf.
“The six-hour advance notice would create havoc for lobster fishermen as they already contend with two major determining factors for fishing: the weather and the tides. Despite all efforts to work collaboratively with DFO, the SWLSS continues to be led astray on the bycatch monitoring framework and enforcement,” says the SWLSS.
The SWLSS says it was “surprised and concerned” when informed by DFO regional management in March that the hail out system for the bycatch monitoring program being offered by DFO would in fact be applied but under a “modified frequency,” leaving them left to question what this frequency will look like and how it would be enforced. The SWLSS necessitates clear direction from DFO on what the alternative plan for the bycatch monitoring project is before we can move forward.
“We have been presented with endless obstacles and needless confusion created solely by DFO regional management when our intentions were simply to offer fishermen in southwestern Nova Scotia a better, less cumbersome option to the hail out observer procedures,” said Bernie Berry, President of SWLSS. “The industry-led by catch monitoring project had the potential to be a springboard to a co-management regime in the future. Partners need to make timely decisions for ventures like this to work.”
Berry said it’s frustrating. “We all believed like in any other venture like this, everybody should have their plans in place by a certain date, so people can make an informed decision in a timely fashion. We had our plan in place in November and DFO as of right now are still trying to finalize deals of their plan. Here it is going on May. That’s a pretty terrible way to do business especially when they’re the ones that initiated this project.”
When contacted, DFO spokesperson Debra Buott-Matheson said while the required frequency for hail outs has not yet been determined for the inshore lobster fishery, the department is considering options that are appropriate for this fishery.
“We continue to work to ensure that the implications of hail outs for harvesters are considered (given that many inshore lobster harvesters fish on a daily basis), while balancing the need for data collection that will support fisheries management decisions. A decision about the frequency for hail outs will be made after careful consultation with industry and well in advance of the opening of the fisheries and will be communicated to all lobster licence holders and interested stakeholder groups. With regards to enforcement of the hail out frequency, departmental enforcement protocols will be established based on the nature and requirement of the system set-up for this fishery.”
Photo by Lonnie Snow