Lois Ann Dort


Chronicle Herald July 23, 2016

CANSO – Last week a major policy shift was announced by the Minister of Fisheries Dominic LeBlanc that changes the distribution of Northern Shrimp quota in SFA (Shrimp Fishing Area) 6 off the coast of Newfoundland. Previously the quota had been governed by the Last In, First Out policy which holds that the last stakeholders to enter a fishery will be the first ones to lose quota when stocks decline and quotas are cut, which is the current situation. The decision by LeBlanc throws LIFO overboard in favour of quota sharing among all invested in the fishery.

The change in policy has been received with mixed reviews by fishermen in Nova Scotia who developed the Northern shrimp fishery in SFA 6 in the 1970s but has been a relief for Newfoundland fishermen who were at risk of being hit by serious quota cuts under the LIFO policy.

Both sides of the argument hold a legitimate claim to fishing quota, those that developed the fishery want to maintain their stake and those that live in Newfoundland want to make a living from local resources.

The decision to scrap LIFO, based on the conclusions of a report tabled on June 22 by an external review panel on the LIFO and Northern shrimp fishery, has taken into account both claims on the stock.

It is understandable that to deny fisherman the right to fish locally would be unpopular despite the fact that most Newfoundlanders entered the Northern shrimp fishery after the collapse of the cod fishery in the 1990s. It is also clear that to displace those who have invested in the development of the fishery since its inception would cast an odor as foul as fish bait on the the ministry and DFO. In this instance the government’s decision sits squarely on the centre line while changing the rules of the road unexpectedly for stakeholders.

The Northern shrimp fishery (Pandalus borealis) was worth $450 million in 2015. All stakeholders involved in the fishery waited anxiously for the outcome of the review panel report, including one small group of fishermen in Canso, Nova Scotia.

The Chedabucto Bay shrimp trap fishery is one-of-kind in Atlantic Canada. It is a sustainable Northern shrimp fishery that was developed by local fishermen in Canso to harvest inshore shrimp with traps, similar to lobster traps, instead of by trawler. Alen Newell and his father Mike, since passed, pioneered the Chedabucto Bay shrimp trap fishery in the 1990s and have worked, with a handful of other like-minded fishermen, to build the fishery while maintaining its sustainability.

The shrimp trap fishery has a total of eleven licences and is given anywhere from eight to 10 percent of the total mobile shrimp fishing fleets’ quota. The fishery uses small fishing boats, harvests close to shore using less fuel, does not disturb the ocean bottom, reduces by-catch and only captures mature shrimp. These practices are all beneficial to shrimp populations and their environment.

It also benefits rural fishermen and the local community. The shrimp trap fishery season runs from the end of September to March, a winter harvest that staves off seasonal unemployment that is the bane of rural Nova Scotia. It fuels the local economy by creating a demand for the supplies and gear needed to keep the fishery running over the winter.

At the moment it appears that the Chedabucto Bay shrimp trap fishery will not be affected by this round of quota cuts, they don’t fall under SFA 6, but those involved in the fishery recognize that changes are coming. They believe their quota is secure for the time being but buoys aren’t crystal balls and fishermen aren’t fortune tellers.

Alen Newell foresees changes coming down the line and he wants DFO to look at individual cases instead of making blanket decisions on quotas. “It does not affect us right now but like anything else you don’t see the big picture until it does. From the sustainable side, we would like any decision made in the future to be mindful of these fisheries that are not invasive on fish habitat.”

Newell also noted that the innovative shrimp trap fishery in Chedabucto Bay fits right into the mandate of the Ivany Report which calls for new thinking in old industries.

Dr. Jim Williams program coordinator for Aquatic Resources at St.FX says, “Everything that I know of the fishery (shrimp trap fishery) tells me that it is a model of sustainability…It is a perfect fit for the fishermen’s schedule… it provides fishing income at a time of year when they don’t have a lot of other options.”

“The best part about it is there seems to be minimal by-catch of juvenile shrimp or of other species. It produces a high-quality product. Not a big fossil fuel footprint. It seems like a model of a sustainable fishery,” Williams states.

Brian Sangster has been part of the Chedabucto Bay shrimp trap fishery for five years and is satisfied with the news from the minister to date. “Everybody knows what these rural communities are like; the struggle in the wintertime. Local fishermen, quota cut, everybody is scared to death of that…For us to lose that fishery, it would be devastating for the whole community.”

Sangster adds that those involved in the Chedabucto Bay fishery conduct their own science on the shrimp stock and fish according to the scientific data collected. “We’re not going to overfish…None of us want to lose that fishery,” he says noting that the group of licence holders is small enough to meet and regulate themselves.

 Chedabucto Bay trap-caught shrimp have won numerous sustainability accolades and recently received approval by the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise sustainable seafood program. At a time when changes in a profitable fishery are afoot, DFO and industry stakeholders would do well to study this fishery model and apply it where and when possible. When further quota cuts come, as they predictably will, it incumbent on the government to make special arrangements for fisheries that are breaking new ground and creating a sustainable future.

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