By Tina Comeau
If things go as planned, lobster fishermen in southwestern Nova Scotia won’t find themselves wondering at the 11th hour whether there will be any changes to their season in the weeks leading up to the opening of the 2014 fall fishery.
And the intention is for them not to be left wondering the year after that either.
Greg Roach, the person appointed by the federal fisheries minister to facilitate discussions in Lobster Fishing Area (LFA) 34, says the goal is to submit a report and recommendations to the minister by the end of June.
And, he says, any initiatives aimed at improving the viability of the industry – and most notably, aimed at fetching a higher price paid to fishermen for their catches – would apply not only to the 2014-15 season, but possibly the following one as well.
What he will present to Fisheries Minister Gail Shea will be based on a vote that will be taken in June by lobster licence holders.
But before getting to that point, Roach will be holding a series of community meetings for fishing port clusters throughout the region to find out from fishermen what they think should be included on a ballot. These meetings will be held in March, beginning possibly as early as next week.
Roach, a former provincial deputy fisheries minister, says he’s putting all of the options on the table, because he doesn’t want the process to be accused later of having left anything out of the discussion.
But at a Feb. 26 meeting of the LFA 34 Advisory Committee in Yarmouth, port reps told Roach there is one item that shouldn’t be put on the table and that is individual quotas in the lobster fishery.
“To go to fishermen with that at a meeting, they would be all walking out,” said fisherman Roger LeBlanc. He and the other fishermen at the meeting said any talks would just get bogged down by an issue that they already know has zero support. It would just be time wasted, they said.
“My personal opinion would be anybody that would bring a quota to the table, we should go back to the old fashion hanging in the communities and be done with it,” said fisherman Maurice Shand.
Roach agreed there is no point in bringing the option of quotas to the table for discussion.
“I don’t want to bring a rope to my own hanging,” he said.
As for other options, Roach noted they’re only suggestions and it will be up to fishermen to weigh the pros and cons. And every option comes with pros and cons, he noted.
Among the ones that will be thrown out for consideration are familiar ones. They include no landing of culls, a delayed season start and/or no Sunday fishing (or no fishing on another day of the week). The status quo will also be an option put onto the table.
Last fall licence holders, by a slim majority, voted in favour of making changes to the lobster season. But the minister decided there wasn’t a clear enough consensuses on what those changes should be and so no changes were made.
But Shea is concerned that every fall the question of the upcoming season is fraught with uncertainty, discourse, frustration and, even, anger within the industry.
And even fishermen are tired of last-minute season discussions or votes.
“I know you’re exhausted by the situation,” Roach told the fishermen at last week’s LFA 34 advisory committee meeting. He says he’d like fishermen to know where they and the industry stand months before a season is set to open.
Roach is hoping that fishermen will take advantage of the opportunity to have their say on the direction of the industry.
The meeting schedule is follows:
The meetings will be held at the following locations and times:
Monday, March 3: Sandy Cove Fire Hall, 6:30 p.m.
Tuesday, March 4: Meteghan Lions Club , 6:30 p.m.
Wednesday, March 5: West Pubnico Fire Hall 6:30 p.m.
Thursday, March 6: Barrington Lions Club, 6:30 p.m.
Friday, March 7: Yarmouth Grand, 6:30 p.m.