Pinkney's Point Wharf: last day of the lobster season. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
By Tina Comeau
Very few licence holders have cast their vote on a ballot to determine whether there will be changes in the upcoming lobster seasons.
Lobster fishermen in LFA 34 only hauled up their gear to end the season on Saturday, May 31, but they’re already been asked to think ahead to the next season.
The ballot asks fishermen whether they want a delay to the start of the 2014-2015 season and whether they want a trap reduction for the next two seasons.
However, only 60 licence holders voted during a two-week advance poll at the Yarmouth DFO office, which ran the last two weeks of May. In saying that, though, licence holders were busy fishing. There are approximately 980 licence holders in LFA 34.
This week, until Friday, June 6, there are voting stations set up at the DFO offices in Yarmouth, Barrington, Digby and Meteghan. Voting is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.
There is no mailout ballot and there is no proxy voting.
“There was some confusion about getting ballots in the mail. That was never the plan,” says Greg Roach. “Ballots will be provided when licence holders go to polling stations and present a picture ID.”
DFO Fisheries Minister Gail Shea appointed Roach, a former provincial fisheries deputy minister, to serve as a facilitator with the LFA34 lobster industry. He held a series of consultation sessions with fishermen at a series of port cluster meetings.
The intention of this exercise has been to give licence holders their say about the upcoming lobster fishery in a timely fashion, thereby avoiding 11th hour questions and uncertainty that often precedes the start of the lobster season.
The questions on the ballot, and the timing of it, reflect the feedback Roach received from fishermen.
The first question on the ballot deals with the timing of the 2014-15 season opener, which is slated to begin on Nov. 24. Licence holders are asked if they want a delay to the start of the upcoming season or if they want the status quo.
If licence holders vote in favour of a delay they can choose between two preferred start dates: Thursday, Nov. 27 or Monday, Dec. 1.
There will be no change to the opening date of the following season. That season would beging on Nov. 30 as scheduled.
In the next question on the ballot, licence holders are asked if they want a trap reduction for the next two seasons or if they want the status quo.
If licence holders vote in favour of a trap reduction – and this option would be for a two-year trial period – the choices are a reduction of traps from 375 to 340, or from 375 to 325. In both cases the trap limit would increase to 400 on April 1.
Roach will not make any decisions himself about the upcoming season. Instead, based on the ballot result, he will make recommendations to the minister. She will make the final decisions.
A majority vote of 50 per cent plus one (at minimum) of the votes cast is required for any recommendation to be put to the minister, either for change or for the status quo.
Likewise when it comes to recommending what form any change should take, should change be the preferred option. Roach previously explained that the bigger of the changes – a one-week delay or a 325 trap limit – would only be recommended if these options receive a vote of 50 per cent plus one (or more) of the total vote. If options don’t meet this threshold they will not be recommended to the minister.
DFO Offices will be communicating with one another after a licence holder has voted at a polling station to ensure the licence holder can’t vote a second time at another office.
The ballots will be counted by Roach, who will be assisted by DFO staff. That has been scheduled for June 9.