Back in July I had the privilege of attending a political announcement for my job. Political speeches are nothing new, and often don’t say anything new. This one was different. In it, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Dominic LeBlanc announced the government’s intent to enshrine the owner operator policy into the Fisheries Act. For fishermen, it means that the license holder owns and operates the boat; he (or she) is independent and not following the direction or control of someone else. For coastal communities in rural Canada, it means that the beneficial interest from the fishery flows from fishermen to the communities they live in. It’s something inshore fishermen have been fighting to maintain for decades, but particularly for the last five years when a Department of Fisheries and Oceans policy paper on “Modernizing the Fishery” omitted any mention of the owner operator policy. The fight has been long and the stakes are high. For many communities (like mine) fishery after fishery has become corporatized and those fishing boats, jobs, and money have left our island. Watching the corporate creep into the lobster fishery is like living the fishing version of Groundhog Day.
That’s why that July afternoon when the announcement was made, I freely admitted I got a little teary eyed. When I looked around the room full of burly fishermen and jaded industry reps, I wasn’t the only one. It was kind of a big deal, and we all knew it was. For that moment in time, there was a ray of hope against a backdrop of bureaucratic molasses climbing up a hill.
There’s been fear mongering from the other side about decreased license values and government taking licenses. It’s meant to distract and divert attention by people who have the most to gain from losing the owner operator policy. It’s a political tactic we’ve seen play out far too often on far bigger stages. I think fishermen are smarter than that. I think they’ve watched fleets and opportunities disappear from their wharves and they don’t want to lose any more. I think communities understand that if they want to maintain the way of life that they’ve had for generations, they need to make sure there is an opportunity for young people to enter the fishery as independent business owners, not as a paid per hour labourer for a corporate interest.
I think this because as the industry reps left the announcement in July and went home, we started having a similar experience. We were approached repeatedly in groceries stores, at the dentist, in the bank, at the wharf by different people with the same questions:
“Do you think they’re really going to fix owner operator?”
Do you think I’ll really be able to have my own boat and licence?”
That ray of hope I thought I’d glimpsed in other red rimmed eyes in Chester has spread. It’s an important fight; an important discussion. Too important to be distracted. Too important to lose.
Stay the course.
The media was a buzz recently about a proposed ban for importing lobster to the European Union because North American lobster were found in the water off Sweden. Homarus americanus is native to the east coast of North America but is not found in Europe (good name then, right?) They are considered an invasive species and as such, there was concern about them taking over the habitat of native species. While scientists have indicated that the warmer waters of Europe will not support lobster reproduction, concern remains.
I get it; invasive species can reek havoc on an ecosystem and while lobster are a highly valued species is Canada and the Unites States, the cost of upsetting Mother Nature is much higher. Green crabs have reeked havoc on the east coast since arriving in the bilge of vessels 200 years ago. Even something innocuous like a goldfish can turn bad when it ends up somewhere it shouldn’t.
So, last week the European Union decided there was sufficient concern to warrant more study on a proposed ban. At stake for Canada and the United States: $200 Million US in exports to that market. It’s kind of a big deal. Lobster are shipped live, so by necessity a ban would shut down that market.
What I think needs a bigger review as part of the study is how the lobster arrived in the water off Sweden. This isn’t “Finding Nemo” meets “The Incredible Journey”.** Lobster aren’t hanging out in tanks, plotting their escape from evil
dentists fish mongers to the nearest ocean.
The most logical way lobsters found their way to the waters off Sweden? Someone(s) put them there. Every few months there are stories of people buying lobster and releasing them back to the ocean. While I realize the impact on an industry half a world away isn’t a primary concern of the EU, wouldn’t it make more sense to focus on the cause (people who release them “back” into the wild) versus shutting down an industry. A quick google search on releasing lobster into the wild would leave you to believe most are looking for some type of public affirmation of their good deed. Like many of us, I’m guessing that the ripple effects of releasing a foreign species into the water wasn’t considered; the ocean is the ocean, right?
If this ban becomes reality, it could be catastrophic for the industry on both sides of the border. It would add to the mystique of lobster in Europe as nothing else could, much as Cuban cigars were so highly sought in the US during the embargo. I’m guessing lobster would be slightly more challenging to sneak through Customs…
** For what it’s worth, I think it would be a cool movie: “Look Bob, I think I the ocean’s just over this hill. Let’s ask that Golden Retriever for help.”
Today we had the opportunity to tour the island with representatives from the provincial government’s “Buy Local” team. The purpose was to talk about our local fishery for background for future stories for social media. For me it’s always fun to play tour guide for a day, and who could resist a spring day out of the office.
Continue reading “Buying Local”
For many places, the second Tuesday in November is just another work day. In coastal communities in southwestern New Brunswick, it is the day that lobster traps go in the water to begin the season. Besides the large crews on the boats, many in the community head to the wharf to watch the boats leave.
It’s one of my favourite days of the year.
Assuming the weather forecast holds, tomorrow lobster fishermen on Grand Manan will set their traps. It’s a big day with fishermen trying to get to the place they want to fish. Lost bottom can mean the loss of thousands of dollars, so there’s a lot riding on what happens. One of the best depictions of it was done by Mars Bars in a mini documentary that was filmed in conjunction with a commercial that aired a few years ago.
Lobster fishing season doesn’t end with as much fan fare as it opens, but it is met with a different kind of excitement: traps come out of the water to be overhauled; trucks and trailers laden with them line the wharves and roads. The day that started grey and overcast brightened by the end but still with a nip in the air: the perfect weather to end the season and mark an unofficial beginning of summer.