New marine conservation areas worry fishermen
TOM AYERS The Chronicle Herald
Published September 28, 2017 - 7:59pm
Last Updated September 29, 2017 - 6:30am
The federal government has named two new marine conservation areas to protect important fish and their habitat, but some Nova Scotia fishermen say they’ve already lost too much ground on the ocean bottom.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced the Miramichi Bay Conservation Area in New Brunswick waters on Wednesday, covering 1,550 square kilometres of water where the Miramichi River empties into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The area is considered an important migration route for declining Atlantic salmon stocks. According to the DFO, the new designation simply formalizes a closed area that has been in place since 1986.
The government also named the Western/Emerald Banks Conservation Area, protecting 10,000 square kilometres offshore southeast of Halifax. The area is a significant spawning and nursery ground for haddock and supports a large variety of fish, including herring, cod, hake, plaice, redfish and flounder.
The designated area now excludes recreational and commercial fishing with any gear that contacts the bottom, including bottom-based longlines, trawls, dredges, bottom gillnets, pots and traps. But fishing boats using pelagic longline or purse seine gear will be allowed.
The area has been under a groundfish moratorium since 1987, but is now also closed to snow crab and northern shrimp fisheries.
With the two new areas, Canada has set aside 3.63 per cent of its marine and coastal habitats. The government has set a target of reaching five per cent by the end of this year and hopes to preserve 10 per cent by 2020, a target it has agreed to under international rules.
Peter Connors, president of the Eastern Shore Fisherman’s Protective Association, said he and his group pushed for the temporary closure of the Western Bank area in the 1980s after groundfish stocks collapsed.
Even though the government has consulted fishermen on the permanent closure, his members are still unsure what it all means, he said.
Fishermen are also concerned about where else the DFO is looking for the rest of the territory needed to make up its 10-per-cent target.
“We have an inshore fishery, a coastal fishery, on the Eastern Shore, and that’s been part of it,” Connors said.
“It’s an area of interest for a coastal marine protected area, so in some respects the Eastern Shore feels like we’re a sacrificial lamb in contributing to the national target, and at this point there’s not a lot of clarity around the marine protected area, like what it’s protecting the area from, who it’s protecting it from.
“We want our area protected … but we want our fishery protected even more.”
George Zinck, president of the Prospect Area Full-Time Fishermen’s Association, said his members opposed the creation of the new conservation area, but are more concerned about the potential loss of additional fishing grounds.
“We’ve been fighting it because we think they’re taking too much for fishing bottom,” he said.
Officials with the DFO are considering more protected areas from Sambro Ledge to Lunenburg to protect sponges, said Zinck.
But the members of his group feel they’ve given enough, Zinck said.
“They have places marked out … and they said ‘Do you want to lose these, or do you want to pick something out you want to lose?’
“So they’re giving us some time to pick out places that we may not actually fish, but all the places they show are places that we all fish.”
The permanent closure of the Western Bank also doesn’t make sense to fishermen, said Zinck.
The haddock stock grew in that area during the recent closure, but then the fish moved off to Georges Bank to follow their food supply, he said.
And traps and longlines don’t cause a lot of damage to the bottom, unlike dragging gear.
Increasing the amount of protected ocean is just going to make things worse for fishermen, Zinck said.
“Our fishermen don’t want it. I think it’ll hurt the fishery more and more.”
The European Commission on Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, which is hosting an international conference next week, says only four per cent of the world’s marine and coastal areas are protected by law, and less than one per cent are properly enforced.
Canada is lagging behind many other countries in its international commitment to reach minimum conservation targets, said Travis Aten of the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, but that doesn’t have to mean people’s livelihoods have to be affected.
Marine protected areas help the fishery by conserving species and habitats, allowing stocks to grow and spread to adjacent waters, he said.
“There are proposals in place that would maybe or potentially bring Canada to the 10-per-cent (target) by 2020, but that’s if everything does go as planned,” Aten said.
“We do support the fishermen and their role and we want to work together with them, which we have been doing on multiple fronts, but in comparison to other countries, some already have 25, 30 per cent of their waters protected.
“So we’re trying to push Canada to become a world leader in protection, with sustainable management with fishers, which is possible, and we can exceed the 10 per cent as well.
“We just have to do it effectively, which is a challenge, and that involves having everyone at the table discussing and going back and forth in compromises on both ends.”