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Lobster Fishers Get ‘Punched In The Gut’ By Fiona, Losing 70,000 Traps

By Alex Graham Oct 4, 2022 | 9:00 AM


A call to extend the lobster fishing season in the Northumberland Strait may not mitigate the losses caused by post-tropical storm Fiona.

“The idea’s probably going to be put on the back burner,” says Luc LeBlanc of the Maritime Fishermen’s Union. “We put the call out on Monday [to extend the season] but, in the meantime, it’s become obvious that we’re going to have a lack of fishing equipment and, in particular, lobster traps.”

“We got hit right in the middle of the season. Fishers from PEI and New Brunswick really got punched in the gut.”

LeBlanc estimates that fishers in Zone 25, which extends through the Northumberland Strait, lost about half of their gear. That’s 600 fishers from New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, each using about 250 traps, for a total of 150,000 traps. He says half of those are now unusable or missing. The cost per trap is approximately $300.

“Some of the gear was dispersed by the storm. The issue is a lot of it was damaged, buried under mud or sand, all twisted and mangled.”

“Even if we wanted to extend the season, we’ve since found out the degree to the extent of the damage — the fishers won’t be able to replace the traps in time so some fishers won’t have the gear they need to fish.”

The 2022 lobster season has already presented a number of challenges.

The lobster season in Zone 25 was delayed due to bad weather, starting on August 11 rather than August 9. That delay led to an extension of the season from October 10 to October 12.

In August, fishers held a protest over lobster prices, saying they were barely making enough to break even at $4.50 to $5.00 per pound. That was down about 40 percent from the 2021 season, where fishers were getting $7.00 per pound.

“We’re now getting about $5.50 to $6.00 per pound,” LeBlanc says.

There have been quarrels with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans about the ability to fish mackerel and herring, which are used as bait in lobster traps.

The cost of fuel has also risen significantly over the course of the year.

Now, Fiona has not only taken three days of fishing away from lobster fishers but has inflicted infrastructure damage and resulted in lost traps and catches.

Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray says the department is aware of the impacts of Fiona and is “willing to work with [fishers] on any requests for season extensions.”

The Minister was part of a televised government update on the damage done by hurricane Fiona.

“More than 180 of the 706 small craft harbours that DFO manages across Atlantic Canada were in the path of the storm. My department is working with local harbour authorities as we chart a path to rebuilding,” the minister said.

Of those 180 harbours, 99 are partially operational, 20 will need further assessment and five are not operational. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has also removed 23 vessels, sunken or grounded by Fiona.

“Climate change means extreme weather events will be more frequent and severe so harbours will need to be rebuilt to withstand those conditions,” Murray said.

LeBlanc says that’s welcome news.

“The last time something like this hit was in 2019 with Dorian and they’re supposed to be every 20 years,” he said. “It seems to be happening more and more.”

When it comes to the significant impact Fiona has had on Zone 25, there are two things to consider: First, the storm hit the Northumberland Strait and, second, it hit during fishing season.

“Of note, the reason this is affecting Zone 25 is that this was the only fishery that was active during the storm. We were the only fishery with traps at the bottom of the ocean in Atlantic Canada,” says LeBlanc.

While the impact on the processing part of the lobster business is expected to be mild and temporary, the fishery itself may feel the effects for years to come.

“There’s a possibility that a lot of juvenile lobster might have died because of the storm. So we’re keeping a really, really close eye on the resource on the next couple of weeks,” he says, noting that wiping out a generation of lobster will have negative effects on upcoming seasons.

“There might be [long-term impact on lobster landings], there might not be, but the risk is certainly there.”

Alex Graham is a Reporter for Huddle Today, a content-sharing partner of Acadia Broadcasting.


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