Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans appears ready to allow lobster fishing inside the proposed Eastern Shore Islands marine protected area.
A draft ecological risk assessment prepared by the department says the local lobster fishery poses little risk of harming juvenile Atlantic cod, eel grass and kelp beds.
“Based on the results summarized above, the Department does not propose additional restrictions for the lobster fishery within a future MPA,” Wendy Williams, a DFO director in the Maritimes, said in a recent letter to stakeholders.
Significant eel grass and kelp beds and a cod nursery are unique ecological features within the 2,000 square-kilometre area — a pristine Nova Scotia archipelago of hundreds of islands that stretches from Clam Harbour, near Jeddore Harbour, to Barren Island, near Liscomb Point.
Why everyone is watching Eastern Shore Islands
Canada has committed to protect 10 per cent of coastal and ocean waters by 2020.
Eastern Shore Islands is the first large marine candidate in Canada with an inshore fishery. The boundary extends just 25 kilometres from the coast.
The ecological risk assessment is part of consultations involving fishermen, community groups, academics and First Nations.
Lobster fishermen in particular have feared the designation as a marine protected area could result in no-take zones where harvesting is banned.
Susanna Fuller, an Oceans North environmentalist, said the lobster assessment was fast-tracked and should assuage fishermen’s concerns.
“It really comes down to how they respond to getting essentially what they ask for,” Fuller said.
Recognizing the obvious
But fisherman Peter Connors wonders what took the government so long to recognize that the lobster fishery poses little threat.
“We should have started from that premise,” said Connors, president of the Eastern Shore Fishermen’s Protective Association.
Connors does not trust the federal government and even considers the risk assessment itself an insult to fishermen.
“And the fact they are only coming out now with a statement that the fishery won’t be affected when they see the opposition is so great that this can’t go ahead,” Connors said.
Advisory committee meets later this month
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans declined to speak about the draft assessment saying it will wait until a Jan. 22 meeting. At that time the report will be presented to an advisory committee.
The advisory committee was created last year to make recommendations on zones, boundaries and allowable activities for future marine protected areas.