ANDY WALKER: Lobster fishermen feeling déjà vu

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For Area 26A lobster fishermen in P.E.I., it is another case of déjà vu.

As each spring roll around, fishermen on the south side of P.E.I. hold their breath and wonder whether this will finally be the year the fishery turns the corner. Catches began falling, first in the fall fishery in Area 25 and then spreading to the spring in Area 26A. Even when there have been momentary rebounds, they have been little cause for celebration.

After all, if you improve on a bad season that just means the next season is a little less bad. There have been a number of studies to try and pinpoint the cause, or more likely cases. Everything from global warming to the impact of Confederation Bridge on the spawning grounds.

After several years of discussion, the federal and provincial governments finally agreed on a plan to tackle the issue. The province has a program of low interest loans and they financed bridge loans to begin the first step on the goal of retiring 25 per cent of the fishing fleet over the next three years. The plan submitted to DFO calls for 50 licences to be retired and all of the remaining fishermen to reduce 36 traps by 2014.

While catches started off promising on the south side, by early June, many fishermen were seeing daily landings in the range of 150 pounds. That’s about half of what has become the “normal” for that point in the season.

Although there has been an increase in price from the $2.50 to $2.75 seen last year and even early this season, the $3.50 for canners and $4 for markets is short of what is needed to make a profit – especially when catches are down.

The downturn  in Area 26A clearly has those in the fall fishery worried.  The fall fishery plans to retire 34 licences by 2014 with a “reallocation” of existing traps to pay for the federal and provincial loans financing the payback. That means the number of the traps each fisherman puts in the water will be vary.

There has been plenty of pain, but short and long-term on the Island’s south side. If fishermen and governments are to continue to support the buyback plan, they are going to have to see more lobsters  in the traps.

Lobster fishing is far from an exact science. Nobody is suggesting landings will be exactly the same from day to day, week to week or year to year. However, catches that are about half that is usually expected mean the revitalization of the fishery still has a long way to go

Geographic location: P.E.I.

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