Crab: for an early start to the season

A crabeater from Chandler, Gaspé, Luc Gionest, believes that there is considerable potential to mitigate potential interactions between mid-shore snow crab and right whale fishermen by starting the season earlier eliminating the static no-take zone and slightly modifying the crustacean exploitation rate.
M . Gionest believes that with more equipment, the Canadian Coast Guard and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans would have been able to open the crab season in mid-April, instead of May 2, and that season would have ended earlier.

“Fisheries and Oceans Canada has failed in its task of ensuring an early start to the season. The department has failed to open the ports of the Acadian Peninsula in time to ensure the season does not stretch. There is a lack of equipment to de-ice these ports, “says Gionest.

It fishes in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, an area that Gaspésiens and Madelinots share with a majority of New Brunswickers and a fairly limited number of crabbers from Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia .

“Coast Guard missed out”

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is still waiting for the ports on the Acadian Peninsula to clear the ice before opening the capture. However, the allocation of the global quota is carried out according to individual quotas, which guarantees each fisherman to capture the quantity that is devolved to him.

“The Coast Guard hovercraft has failed to clear the New Brunswick ports. He arrived late. The Gaspé ports were clear and the crabbers were ready to go out at sea. There are now more and more guys [crabbers] from New Brunswick who want to bring their boat here in the fall to be ready in the spring. They see the urgency of starting the season earlier, because of the right whale, “notes Luc Gionest.

Like others, he saw the Coast Guard attempt with a single hovercraft, the Sipu Muin, to prevent a flood in the village of Matapedia and open the port of Shippagan for crabbers. “The Coast Guard missed out in both places. Matapedia was flooded and fishing started too late, “he summarizes.

Static area “useless”

Since the death of 12 right whales in Canadian waters in 2017, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has instituted a static closed area for crab fishing on April 28. It happened in 2018 and this year. The static area covered 6490 square kilometers last year and 2300 in 2019. It is accompanied by “dynamic zones”, sectors that close for two weeks when right whales are observed there.

In both years, the department has committed to make sure that the crab fishery opens before April 28 in the southern Gulf.

“He missed his shot both years. It is useless, this static area. Dynamic areas do the work. The department would be better off monitoring right whale movements much earlier. Air monitoring should be done at the entrance to Cabot Strait, north of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, with the same attention as in the Gulf. We could fish until the whales arrive in our fishing areas, “says Luc Gionest.

In 2017, as in 2019, the worst two years for right whales in the Gulf, these mammals were only seen in mid-May.

“We could have been fishing in the static zone for two weeks. I’m sure if we had access to the entire gulf from mid-April, everybody would have finished fishing after the first week of June. This year, we finished the 30th of June, “says the crabber.

Five of the six whales that have died so far in 2019 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence have been located after the first week of June.

Although collisions with boats or ships are the most certain cause of three of these six mortalities, it is far from certain that crabbers are responsible for these collisions, just as for the entanglements in the fishing gear, says Luc Gionest.

“At sea, there is always some risk […] That’s why the goal is not to be there when the whales arrive, or to be there as little as possible,” he insists.

To the need to start the season earlier and abolish the static zone, Luc Gionest adds another suggestion, “modulate catch rates to reduce peaks and troughs of quotas. I’m sure we could reduce biomass exploitation rates slightly, when we have very strong stocks, as in 2017 and this year. We could do some tests. The entire industry, both fishermen and factory workers, would benefit from more equal seasons, “he says.

The 2017 quota was 102% higher than in 2016. This year, the quota of 32,480 tonnes was a significant 35% jump compared to 2018.

Luc Gionest sees long discussions with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to make his point, which is shared by many Gaspé crabbers.

“DFO is faster to impose things on fishermen, and less quickly to review the way they do things,” he says.

CHANDLER – MP for Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine and Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier admits that people claiming that the Coast Guard lacks equipment to de-icing fishing harbors and rivers “are absolutely right” . It does not want to disclose for the moment the means that will be in force in 2020, but it speaks of “solutions that will be permanent”.

Snow crab landings from the southern Gulf exceeded $ 100 million in the Gaspé Peninsula and the Magdalen Islands in 2019, and nearly 400 million including the Maritime Provinces. Gilles Gagné (special collaboration)

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