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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Consultation and collaboration with fishermen needed on whale situation

['WS-xx-letter to the editor']
letter to the editor

I have watched from the comfort of my home – this from Ottawa and DFO: “Robust, science-based, coherent measures to protect these highly endangered North Atlantic right whales; we’re really playing Russian roulette with the entire future of the Canadian fish and seafood industry,” Mr. LeBlanc (the fisheries minister) was quoted as saying.

Very strong words, but wait a minute – don’t we live in Canada? What about our Charter of Rights and Freedoms? The right to participate in political activities and the right to a democratic government?

In a democratic country, all eligible citizens have the right to participate, either directly or indirectly in making the decisions that affect them.

Here in Nova Scotia, we have a signed memorandum of understanding respecting coastal and oceans management in Nova Scotia with Ottawa. These documents stress the need for collaboration with the Government of Canada and will improve management and protection of Nova Scotia’s coastal and ocean resources.

Also in Nova Scotia there is a Standing Committee of Resources, that considers matters that are under the responsibility of the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture. An emergency meeting can be called when an issue requires urgent intervention.

My above few words clearly point out a major decision has been made by Ottawa, DFO, to protect the whales that will have lasting effect, not only on New Brunswick fisheries but Atlantic wide.

For four decades I personally fished for lobster and never witnessed lobster gear tangled with a whale, but more importantly, never have I heard a story or any fisher talk about such an event.

I watched as MFU representatives and fishers in New Brunswick requested that Minister Dominic LeBlanc consider a proposal that would allow fishing close to the shore in northeastern New Brunswick, which he rejected. And on the day I wrote this letter, June 19, I witnessed the first closure of its kind in the Bay of Fundy off Grand Manan.

Let’s break this down: DFO spots a whale, closes the fishery.

People, industry leaders, all government leaders, the Mi’kmaq community and all politicians (municipal, provincial, federal), should take the initiative to stand up and support the fishers effected by these closures.

One of my early leadership lessons was, “If you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu!”

Local knowledge must play a large part in finding a solution to the whales’ migration patterns. History is clearly on the side of local knowledge and common sense.

The lobster industry in Nova Scotia is the economic engine that drives rural Nova Scotia. If a whale is spotted during open lobster season in early December or mid May, closures will likely happen under the present DFO guidelines.

Think about it – many businesses, the car/truck dealerships, for just one example, will feel it within the first week. It’s time to stand up, shoulder to shoulder, with New Brunswick and Grand Manan fishers.

Fixed gear sectors can co-exist with whales. The solution must be found to allow excess to historical fishing grounds.

The fisheries need to be consulted. The time is now for collaboration. Our constitution sets out the fundamental principles for Canadians in rural Atlantic provinces to have a say in major decisions which impact their livelihood and yes, we can help the whales in the process.

Sterling Belliveau,

Shelburne County,

Former Nova Scotia fisheries minister

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