Stacking the odds in favour of lobster fishermen

Fishermen in the western Gulf region are to be commended for coming up with an industry-driven solution to what is ailing the industry

Published on August 4, 2014

Captain Josh Clory, right, unloads the catch Wednesday at Seafood 2000 in Georgetown. Fishermen say while the prices are up slightly this year, they are still not making enough money to make ends meet.

©Steve Sharratt - The Guardian

P.E.I. fishermen are to be commended for a new, industry-driven initiative that could see hundreds, if not thousands, of lobster traps removed from the waters off our Island coastline.

Last week, Island fishermen joined the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for an announcement that would allow fishermen in the western Gulf to stack their lobster licences. In essence, one lobster fisherman could buy out another lobster fisherman in order to combine or stack that licence and fish using a single vessel.

The catch is that once the licences are combined, one of those lobster licences will be retired from the fishery, along with up to 50 per cent of the traps from one of them.

A single fisherman acquiring a second licence can fish a maximum of 525 traps, while two fishermen acquiring a second licence can each fish a maximum of 412 traps. If, for example, 40 lobster licences are combined or stacked, then up to 3,000 lobster traps could be removed from the water — the equivalent of 10 existing lobster licences.   

What is refreshing about this latest proposal is that it came from the fishermen themselves and even more importantly will be implemented without costing taxpayers a single dime. For far too long, lobster fishermen have looked to governments to solve what is ailing the industry with little to show for their efforts.

Fisheries Minister Gail Shea, who is no stranger to the lobster industry, having grown up in the fishing port of Skinners Pond and now living in Anglo-Tignish, heralded the latest announcement, saying the future of the fishery resides in the “…ability of its industry to ensure its stability and sustainability. I’m pleased to support interested harvester organizations in developing industry-driven self-rationalization initiatives that allow for a more economically viable industry. I encourage other harvester organizations to take the lead on making these types of changes to ensure the sustainability of their fishery.”

Other fishing areas across Prince Edward Island are now hinting that they too will sign on to the lobster stacking agreement.

Craig Avery, president of the Western Gulf Fishermen’s Association, said “our proposal for change”  will allow aging fishermen the opportunity to retire with fair compensation and help those that remain an opportunity to become more viable by being able to fish more traps. He reiterated the plan “comes at no cost to the government or the taxpayer.”

That is to be celebrated.

Governments of all levels are struggling to balance the books while trying to meet the demands of their electorate for better access to health care, improved outcomes in education, more funding for the country’s crumbling infrastructure and the list goes on and on and on.

In the current economic climate, there is no appetite for huge government-led buyouts. That being said, the federal government is not to be let off the hook completely.

Governments can support fishermen in their calls for more promotion and marketing, efforts to open new markets in Asian, Europe and Brazil and the hunt for more viable species in an effort to take the pressure off the once-lucrative lobster.

It is also imperative that all levels of government, and specifically the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, continue to listen to the concerns facing the Island’s lobster industry and more importantly be open to other initiatives brought forward by fishermen.

Prince Edward Island’s $113-million lobster industry deserves nothing less.