As the fall lobster season began to wind down off the coast of P.E.I., fishermen found themselves battling both Mother Nature and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
The season was slated to close Oct. 10, but the last full week of the season featured high winds that kept many fishers in port. The Area 25 Lobster Advisory Committee made a formal request on Oct. 6 to extend the season to ensure all fishers were able to safely land their catch and bring in their gear.
Two days later DFO announced it was turning thumbs down on their request and the season would close on schedule. Colin MacIsaac, chief of resource management for DFO in P.E.I. said most fishers landed their traps early after wind warnings were issued for the final days of the season. He argued an extension would provide an unfair advantage to some fishermen.
“We just wanted fishers to be able to land their gear during a safe timeframe while being able to keep their well deserved catch,” said Danny Arsenault, the chair of the advisory committee and president of the Prince County Fishermen’s Association, which includes most of the south shore fall fishermen. “We’re lucky there were no serious consequences.”
The president of the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association is disappointed fishermen weren’t formally consulted before the decision was made. Mike McGeoghegan said they hope to use the incident as an example of the need for “working with industry on important decisions regarding safety” in further talks with Fisheries Minister Gail Shea and department officials.
He said fishermen have a very limited season and every day counts. The veteran fisherman said the DFO decision put people’s lives at risk.
The incident brought down the curtain on what must be considered another disappointing season for Area 25 fishermen. While the landing numbers are not yet in, fishermen in many parts of the south shore have been facing declining catches for over a decade. The problem has been particularly acute in the area between Borden and Egmont Bay. That is despite the fact overall landings have actually increased in the past two years.
Like their counterparts throughout the Atlantic region, fall fishermen have seen their prices take a sharp drop due to the global financial crisis. Prices opened at $3 for canners and $3.25 for market lobster. It did improve to $3.25 and $3.50 by the end of the season. By contrast, spring fishermen in P.E.I. were receiving $3.50 and $4 paid when the spring season ended.
As part of the industry rationalization plan, 50 licences are being retired in Area 25.
If the situation does not show some improvement, what will the chances of survival be for those that are left