MONTAGUE — Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea says the fear of longliners entering the Gulf of St. Lawrence to fish tuna this year is a non-issue being fanned by Cardigan MP Lawrence MacAulay.
However, Troy Atkinson, president of the Nova Scotia Swordfishermen’s Association, takes issue with both federal politicians and says they are pandering to their constituents with the bluefin catch.
“This is a non-issue, an item that fishers discussed and rejected at a meeting,” said Shea.
“This is how the system of consultation works now, this is not the 1980s
and Lawrence should realize that, instead of always running to the media screaming ‘the sky is falling’.”
MacAulay called on Shea last week to deny pending applications for scientific work that would involve test vessels using longlines for tuna in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
“It is well known the destruction longline vessels can do to fisheries around the world, especially when it comes to tuna,” said MacAulay.
The proposal for longline tuna was dropped and four other proposals are now on the table
following the Atlantic Large Pelagics Advisory Committee (ALPAC) meeting recently.
“In the end the longline proposal did not have broad support and will not go forward,” said Shea’s communication director, Sophie Doucet.
Atkinson says the Cardigan MP is wrong to suggest opening up the gulf to longliners means 80-foot vessels on the water.
“He should see that all of the interests in the bluefin fishery are being addressed, not just those in his back yard,” he said from his office in Halifax.
“Remember, 30 per cent of the resource was harvested by P.E.I. fishers and 70 per cent elsewhere. The third-largest user group are the very longline fishers that submitted one of the proposals that should have been evaluated based on its merits by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.”
MacAulay suggested longline was not sustainable, but Atkinson said it is the first pelagic longline fleet in the world to be certified by the Marine Stewardship Council as sustainable on a national level.
“The hook-and-line tuna fishery that we have here is one of the best-managed and most sustainable fisheries in the world,” said MacAulay in his remarks last week.
Other than Island fishers, the longline fleet consists of 77 licence-holders in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and New Brunswick and Atkinson said only one vessel is greater than 65 feet in length.
Another six are under 65 feet and the remainder are made up of 45-foot boats that fish lobster in the winter and swordfish and tuna in the summer.
“Both Gail Shea and Lawrence MacAulay have forgotten their jobs as minister and critic and to do what is in the best interest of the country, and not necessarily their riding,” said Atkinson.
The western Atlantic bluefin tuna is born in the Gulf of Mexico and reach the Gulf of St. Lawrence at the height of the summer and autumn seasons.
Canada receives a quota from the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna for the harvesting of Atlantic bluefin tuna and this quota is divided by fleet based on average historical landings.
Final research proposals will be submitted in the fall of 2014 for a decision on a possible stock survey in 2015.