BY ANDY WALKER
Fishermen in Canada’s smallest province know all too well just how fickle the migration patterns of bluefin tuna can be.
In the 1960’s and early 1970’s the port of North Lake in the eastern part of the province billed itself as the “bluefin tuna capital of the world.” The community built much of its economy around the giant fish at a time when demand for tuna was rising, especially in the Japanese market.
It would be an exaggeration to say the area was booming, but it was home to several small businesses. They hosted an annual tuna fishing tournament that attracted sports fishermen and journalists from all over the world.
Then the tuna changed their migration patterns and began bypassing North Lake. After several years when no fish were caught, the tournament was shelved. Some of the smallest businesses disappeared. Perhaps it’s not fair to blame the decline totally on the disappearance of the tuna fishery – the past several decades have not been kind to rural communities across the country and maybe some of these businesses would have been forced out eventually due to the changing market place.
Suffice to say the disappearance of the big fish didn’t help.
In recent years, the tuna have returned although the port has never retained its former glory days. However, a recent vote on the other side of the world will hopefully prove to be good news for North Lake and other Island tuna ports.
The United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species voted down a proposal spearheaded by the United States to ban the export of Atlantic bluefin tuna. Canada and Japan led the fight against the ban, saying it would devastate the economies of fishing areas. A second vote on the matter was slated before the end of March but it was expected to ratify the first result.
Federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea is well aware of the importance of tuna to the Island economy. Her home community of Tignish, located on the other end of the province from North Lake, is one of the busiest ports during tuna season.
Shea said Canada maintains the fishery should be managed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna. However, she is also the first to admit not every country has lived up to its management obligations imposed by the commission. She said the challenge now will be strengthen that organization to make sure its world is respected by all member countries.
There are about 300 bluefin tuna fishermen on P.E.I. and the executive director of the P.E.I. Fisherman's Association called the vote a positive step for the island industry. Ed Frenette added “It looks like we'll be able to go fishing again this coming year and years after."