By Joan LeBlanc
FOR THE SOU’WESTER
With just a couple of weeks left to go in the annual 10-week lobster fishing season in LFA 25, many fishermen in the Northumberland Strait area were reporting lower catches than those of this time last year.
Bernie Briggs, president of the Botsford Professional Fishermen’s Association in Murray Corner, New Brunswick, said recently that given the small increase in landings early in the 2007 season, area fishermen were hopeful that this year would be even better. But that hope didn’t pan out. “It’s been slow, very slow. The price is down and the catches are poor; that just about sums it up. We had a slow start and it hasn’t gotten any better since then. Most guys are lucky if they bring in 500 pounds a week,” he said, adding the high cost of fuel is also cutting heavily into profits.
Fishermen are also frustrated about what they’re getting paid for lobster this year – $4.50 for markets and $4 for canners. Briggs noted that’s about 50 cents per pound less than last year. On a more positive note however, lobster meat quality has been good this year.
The fishing season in LFA 25 began on Saturday, Aug. 9 when fishermen laid their traps in various locations in the Northumberland Strait. Regulations state that traps could be fished beginning at 6 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 11, however Briggs noted that the 60 or so fishermen based out of the four local wharves – including Cape Tormentine, Murray Corner, Amos Point and Port Elgin – did not begin to fish until Monday. “In this area we have a gentleman’s agreement that no one fishes on Sunday and everyone abides by that agreement. I know they fished on Sunday in areas north of us, but we didn’t start until Monday,” he explained.
The final day of the lobster season in LFA 25 is Oct. 10.
Briggs said that fishermen were seeing some good signs that there are still lobster in the strait since most were seeing little ones on the bottom. He noted that there is apparently still a lot of siltation around the piers of the Confederation Bridge. “But that was just the first couple weeks. Since then we’ve hardly seen any little ones,” he said, adding that he still believes that construction of the 12.9-kilometre bridge, which opened in 1997, has been detrimental to the survival of many fish species in the Northumberland Strait. “It started with the construction of the temporary work surface off Cape Jourimain. That left a lot of silt in the strait. Now the bridge is there and there’s silt around the piers; lobster can’t survive in all that silt,” he said.
Lobster fishing regulations remained the same for 2008 as that of last year, he noted, including equipment and lobster size. “There’s a specific measure for female lobster and any females over that size are put back in the water. They say that’s going to help increase the number of lobsters, but I’m not sure if that really works,” he said.
In other areas where the lobster fishery has remained constant or shown to have improved, another tactic has been implemented. “They raised the measure. They went to a market (sized lobster) fishery only. They throw all of the juveniles back instead of landing all of these canner lobsters like we do here,” he said, adding that’s been a controversial issue with most area fishermen.
Local resistance to a market-only lobster fishery was part of the reason the fishing of juvenile lobsters is permitted in some areas of LFA 25. “I don’t know whether it’s the right or wrong thing to do, but that’s what we do here,” Briggs said.
With less than two weeks of the season left to go, he noted that about one-quarter of local fishermen have already pulled their gear. A handful will try their luck at tuna fishing off Nova Scotia.
Those remaining will stick out the final days of the season, most deciding to either double set their traps or to fish on alternate days in an attempt to pull in bigger catches. “All in all, I think you could say that the lobster fishery in the Northumberland Strait was pretty much a tax write-off this year,” he concluded. (Joan LeBlanc is a freelance writer who resides in New Brunswick and is a contributor to the Sou’Wester.)
By Joan LeBlanc
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