Report: DFO orders ‘hard pill to swallow’ for N.B. lobster fishermen, union says

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Lobster fishermen off the coast of Miscou Island, N.B., will spend Sunday morning hauling gear from the waters in order to comply with the latest fishing zone closures imposed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. 

On Friday afternoon, the DFO re-opened four areas previously closed to fishing due to the presence of right whales. But with more closures being imposed on Sunday, frustrations continue to mount. 

The federal fisheries minister met with representatives of the Maritime Fisherman’s Union in Moncton on Friday.

Lobster fishermen were hoping Ottawa might ease some of the measures for protecting right whales, but minister Dominic LeBlanc wasn’t budging.​

“If we don’t take 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,” LeBlanc said.

At least six closures have been announced this spring season, so far. In response, hundreds of New Brunswick fishermen attended a rally this week in protest.

Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc said Friday he wasn’t prepared to allow fishing in areas where right whales and their young are likely feeding. (CBC)

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During Friday’s meeting, LeBlanc and fisherman discussed whether there was sufficient data to show that right whales are, in fact, approaching shallow waters.

While there wasn’t any data specific to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, LeBlanc said there is “reliable scientific data” from the United States that shows females and calves do go into shallow water for “considerable periods of time” to follow their food sources.

“The idea that we could have kept a certain portion of shallow water open, in my view, was not responsible,” LeBlanc added. “It wasn’t a risk I was prepared to take.”

‘We just don’t agree’

Carl Allen, president of the Maritime Fishermen’s Union, organized the most recent protest and met with LeBlanc on Friday. He disagreed with the closures and said he was disappointed that fishermen aren’t being listened to.

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“I have a lot of respect for Minister LeBlanc, but we just don’t agree with the basis of the whole plan — it’s a hard pill to swallow,” he said.

Fishermen’s union president Carl Allen calls the closures “a hard pill to swallow.” (Gabrielle Fahmy/CBC)

LeBlanc did offer the fishermen an alternative, however. 

He offered a paid training program for crew members and plant workers affected by these closures.

The program would allow workers to learn new skills over several weeks as a way to make up for lost revenue and help them qualify for employment insurance.

LeBlanc also suggested the government could organize a limited fishery near the end of September for the roughly 60 licensed owners and crews affected by the current closures.

“I will offer every single one of those licence holders an opportunity to replace the revenue in the fall,” LeBlanc said.

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The Maritime Fishermen’s Union is taking the two offers back to its fishermen before it gives Ottawa an answer.

Allen said fishermen would be “reluctant” to accept.

“My concern is what are we training them to do? It has to be fisheries related because the last thing I want to do is go train deckhands to find work elsewhere,” he said.

The fishermen’s union will talk to its members over the weekend. In the areas affected by the latest closures off the coast of Miscou, traps have to be out of the water by noon on Sunday. 

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