By Tina Comeau
As lobster fishing think ahead to the start of their commercial fishery this fall, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is thinking ahead to when their fishery will be over.
Specifically the department is in the process of finalizing a policy that will allow fishermen to operate charter operations in the summer months. The policy would see fishermen take tourists or others out on their vessels to show them how lobsters are caught.
But there is a catch, and it deals specifically with what fishermen will be hauling up in their traps.
Any lobsters pulled from the water can’t have been fished by baited traps. Rather, the lobsters have to have been purchased from a retailer or have come from a lobster pound or other storage facility and placed inside the traps sometime prior to them being hauled up.
Fishermen may be expected to produce proof that the lobsters were purchased or obtained through a legal source as the rule applying to not fishing lobster during a closed season would apply as these tourism ventures are going on.
“They’re demonstration traps only. They’re non-fishing traps,” explains Carl MacDonald of DFO management. “It’s all about showing tourists what it’s like. It’s about hauling up a trap, taking out a lobster and showing them.”
But, MacDonald says, the experience can only go so far.
People also won’t be allowed to cook lobsters on the vessels, according to how the policy is being drafted. That is because it is against fisheries regulations to separate a lobster on board a vessel so even if they were cooked, they wouldn’t be allowed to be eaten. During the commercial season this is a rule that exists so that undersized lobsters aren’t being caught, cooked and eaten onboard vessels.
Coming up with a policy to allow fishermen to bring tourists out on vessels for a fishing experience is something that has been worked on for over a year now, with input taken from industry, says MacDonald.
There are other rules that will have to be followed.
“Your vessel must be inspected, and it must be inspected to carry passengers by Transport Canada,” MacDonald says.
“(As for) eligible criteria, either you had a licence for this activity previously or if you didn’t, you must be a core fisherman or a charter boat operator or a First Nation aboriginal organization,” he adds.
Licences will be required for these ventures, although the licences will be free. However, they must be applied for on an annual basis.
“If you set it up and didn’t abide by the rules, it’s not like you have a licence for life,” MacDonald says.
Other rules are:
• you cannot interfere with other fishing operations;
• you’re only authorized to have three traps, and they must be non-functional. (Aside from lobster traps, crab traps for rock crab are also allowed.);
• each trap must be tagged with a valid DFO tag;
• you have to have a sign onboard saying traps are non-functional;
• if traps do accidentally fish lobsters or other by-catch, it must be released;
• you can’t have female lobsters with eggs in your possession;
• the captain or a helper on the vessel should have knowledge of the lobster industry so they can answer questions on board;
• at times, a DFO representative may be on board to observe the operation;
• you have to comply with fisheries regulations.
Added Anne Sweeney, DFO’s area chief of resource for southwestern Nova Scotia, “This licence is primarily being brought about for tourism operators that want to show people how the lobster fishery is done. It’s not a gourmet feast or anything else like that. It’s about this is how people catch lobsters. That’s the purpose of the licence.”
MacDonald says the department hopes to finalize the policy over the winter and then have information online for people who are interested in pursuing this type of venture.
“We usually make these licences available for the summer period when you guys aren’t fishing,” he said at a recent meeting attended by lobster port reps and other fishermen.