Canadian lobster fishermen are challenging the “misinformed” remarks of a U.S. senator.
Susan Collins, a Republican senator from Maine, has accused them of undermining conservation efforts by Maine lobster fishermen in a disputed “grey zone” between the two countries.
The roughly 700 square kilometres of lucrative lobster grounds surrounding tiny Machias Seal Island has been claimed by both Canada and the U.S. for decades.
She said many of the American lobster fishermen in that part of Maine near the New Brunswick border have a complaint.
“Many of the lobstermen … who fish in this area, who harvest lobsters in this area, are growing increasingly frustrated that their Canadian counterparts fishing in exactly the same areas are undermining the American protections and threatening the sustainability of the stock,” Collins said.
Collins was addressing officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at an appropriations subcommittee meeting in Washington last week.
The NOAA regulates fisheries in federal waters, beyond three miles from shore.
Collins incorrectly claimed Canadian fishermen are allowed to catch egg-bearing female lobsters that are notched and tossed back by Mainers as a conservation effort.
“When a Maine lobsterman throws back that V-notched or oversized lobster, it can be pulled up by a Canadian lobsterman 50 yards away and brought to market,” Collins said.
“So the implications of these regulatory discrepancies are very concerning and very unfair to Maine’s lobstermen.”
The claim rankles New Brunswick lobster fisherman Brian Guptill, president of the Grand Manan Fishermen’s Association. He said it is untrue.
Senator ‘misinformed or ‘making stuff up’
“She is misinformed, or if she’s not misinformed she’s making stuff up,” Guptill said.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada explicitly bars possession of V-notched lobsters.
Collins was on surer ground when she said Canadians do not have a maximum-sized lobster.
The United States maximum is 127 millimetres, which applies to lobster caught up in the grey zone.
Both Canada and the U.S. have an 82-millimetre minimum size for lobster.
Further from shore, larger lobsters can be caught by American fishermen, Guptill said.
“They fish 365 days a year, their season is open. They have over twice as many traps as we’re allowed to have [800 traps per licence in the U.S. versus 375 in Canada]. We both have to protect berried females and both countries catch large lobsters,” Guptill said.
Canadian rules for grey zone
His association represents 136 Canadian licence holders who are entitled to fish in the grey zone.
Guptill said oversight is less rigorous on the U.S. side.
“They don’t have any idea how many fishermen fish in the grey zone area. They don’t know how many traps they use in it. Our government knows.”
Collins asked U.S. regulators to consider developing a fisheries agreement with Canada to harmonize conservation measures in the disputed area.
Guptill said he has fished alongside the Americans for years.
“I have no problems with them, I text back and forth with them. I respect their gear, they respect mine.”
DFO spokesperson Keegan Eatmon said the Canadian lobster fishery in the area has strong conservation protections in place, which is why the fishery is certified as environmentally sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.
“Canada and the United States have a long history of co-operation which ensures that fishing in this area is well-managed and safe for both countries,” Keegan said in an email.
“Canadian and U.S. enforcement authorities and other agencies maintain excellent relationships to ensure effective enforcement and to develop a coordinated management approach for this area. We remain engaged on shared interest.”