At a time when Ottawa is spending billions to help people make ends meet, some Island fishermen are taking a different tack. They want permission to fend for themselves and go fishing.
“We just want to try to make enough money to get by. That’s all we want to do,” said Tignish fisherman Kenneth LeClair.
LeClair is not happy with the two-week delay to the start of spring lobster season, announced this week by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. That decision followed a vote by Island fishermen that resulted in earlier dates being recommended to the federal fisheries minister.
In LFA 24, where LeClair fishes, 60.9 per cent of fishermen voted in favour of a May 6 start. And in LFA 26A, 51.2 per cent chose May 13 as a start date.
LeClair wants to know why the recommendation of an earlier date in his area was not honoured.
“If you look at Nova Scotia, their minister over there in her own riding, they got a six month fishery that they’re still fishing,” said LeClair. “I’d like the Canadian people, if they believe in us, to email Justin Trudeau and the minister of fisheries to be in our favour.”
Other fishermen, though, are relieved by the two-week delay.
“The majority of people are relatively pleased,” said Gerard Holland, who fishes at North Lake, which is in LFA 26A. “Some is not pleased at all and in fairness to them, they need to be heard too, but the biggest concern most of us had was to make sure that everyone had a buyer, so the later we went, the better the chances of the market improving.”
Holland believes demand for lobster may be down 50 per cent or more this season, based on what he’s heard so far from the companies that purchase lobster from fishermen.
The Liberal MLA in Tignish is hearing from other fishermen in his district who are disappointed the federal fisheries minister didn’t go with the May 6 date to start the season.
“They want to know why that was not taken into consideration when a decision was made,” said Hal Perry, MLA for Tignish-Palmer Road. “The federal minister said she will make a decision based on what the input is from the fishermen, so that’s a little bit concerning.”
Perry said he’s reached out to the federal and provincial fisheries ministers, as well as the premier.
Staff at the office of the federal fisheries minister say the May 15 start date sets a level playing field for fishermen in all three Maritime provinces in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. They say there was no favouritism involved in the minister’s decision.
CBC contacted the provincial fisheries minister Friday but has not yet heard a response.
Earlier this week, the executive director of the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association (PEIFA), Ian MacPherson, said while the delay has caused some frustration for Island fishermen, the federal minister also had to consider requests from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in coming up with a standardized start date.
MacPherson said the start date “is just one piece of the puzzle” as fishermen look to adjust to change due to COVID-19, including changes needed on boats for personal protection, prices and markets. He said the PEIFA may decide to ask for a season extension.