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Some N.S. lobster fishers report serious decline in catches

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Some lobster fishers are reporting a major drop in catches this year compared to last, and they’re calling on the provincial government to drastically increase illegal fishing fines to keep the lobster population stable.

Heather Mulock, executive director of Coldwater Lobster Association, said this season is one of the worst for catches in the region since the 1990s, and she attributes some of that to illegal fishing.

“We saw millions of pounds of lobster that came out illegally,” she said. “Unauthorized fishing in the summer and fall affected us.”

Mulock is advocating for hefty fines for the sale and purchase of illegal lobster in the province.

“A one million dollar fine is one thing, but we need it implemented. We also need a minimum fine as a deterrent,” she said. “The language needs to be clear that this type of activity will not be tolerated.

In a written statement, Kent Smith, minister of fisheries and aquaculture, said he spoke with industry representatives in Southwest Nova Scotia in late November about their concerns over illegal activity.

Smith said he has been in communication with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans about the need for increased enforcement to counteract illegal activity. He also noted they are committed to raising fines from $100,000 to $1 million.

“We’re in the process of a regulatory review that will include updates to the Nova Scotia Fisheries and Coastal Resources Act,” he said. “Provincial fines for offences under the Act are part of this review.”

In a news release, Millbrook First Nation said the reported decline in catches “unfairly falls on Mi’kmaw livelihood fishers,” noting that factors such as strong winds and powerful tides have contributed to the perceived decline.

“Contrary to misconceptions, lower lobster landings in Southwestern Nova Scotia are not the result of Mi’kmaw overfishing,” the release states. “A staggering 94 per cent of Nova Scotia lobsters are still harvested by the non-Indigenous commercial industry. The marginal amount of interim communal-commercial access (4.7 per cent) has been afforded through the Marshall Response Initiative, as a stopgap measure.”

“Speaking for myself, our catches are about half from last year and I’m not sure why to be honest,” said Lex Brukovskiy, a fisherman. “The water temperature is slightly cooler but not enough to make a difference, St Mary’s Bay is being fished in the summer so that could cause some problem.

“We’re all scratching our heads. I moved to the Bay of Fundy because St Mary’s Bay catches are so low this year. Our first haul was less than half from last year.”

“While we don’t have firm numbers yet, anecdotally we are hearing that catches are down quite a bit in some areas during these critical early weeks of the season,” Smith said. “We are also hearing that they are roughly on par in other areas.

“I am hopeful that the various conditions, such as water temperature, that impact lobster landings will improve and that we will see an increase in landings as the season progresses. We are watching this closely and our team is on the ground and in regular contact with harvesters to monitor the situation.”

Mulock said fishers across the province are struggling with the low catches.

“Lobster fishery is critical to this province,” she said. “It will affect the entire province. This is not looking good for the lobster industry.”

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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