Quebec crabbers angry at Fisheries and Oceans

Quebec crabbers who frequent the southern Gulf fishing areas, including large area 12, planned to leave during the weekend.

Everyone was ready, on the Islands as in the Gaspé, assure with one voice the president of the Association of Gaspesian crabbers, Daniel Desbois, and Paul Boudreau, representative of the traditional crabbers of the Islands. The factories too, adds the director of the Quebec Association of the fishing industry (AQIP), Jean-Paul Gagné.

According to Paul Boudreau, Fisheries and Oceans informed them that the Coast Guard was not ready and that there was still ice in the gulf.

The crabbers and processors of Quebec, who are campaigning for an early opening of the fishery in the spring to avoid interactions with the right whale, are outraged.

It is incomprehensible that it is Fisheries and Oceans that is delaying the crab fisherycommented Paul Boudreau. They have all winter to prepare.

Crab fishing is already open in the river [l’estuaire]; on Anticosti Island, shrimp fishing is open. It doesn’t make sense that the crab one isn’t open. »

A quote from Paul Boudreau, representative of the traditional crab fishers of the Magdalen Islands

The ice bulletin on the ministry’s website reports ice-free water almost everywhere in the gulf.

Quebec crabbers and processors are campaigning for an early opening of the fishery in the spring to avoid interactions with the right whale (archives).

Photo: Radio-Canada / Joane Bérubé

What also upsets the crabbers a lot is that these fishing days lost at the start of the season are difficult to recover at the end when large sectors are closed to fishing due to the presence of whales. It can take 10 days in the summer to recover three lost days in the spring.according to Daniel Desbois.

A protocol… which is slow to be applied

Quebec crabbers have been asking for several years to get out as early as possible in the spring so that fishing can take place as long as possible before the arrival of the right whale in the Gulf.

For several years now, an opening protocol has made it possible to launch fishing without all the ports in the Gulf being ice-free.

Fishermen handle crab traps and fishing gear.

Madelinot crab fishermen preparing for the start of the crab fishing season (archives).

Photo: Radio-Canada / Luc Manuel Soares

Despite the protocol, Paul Boudreau recalls that in 2019, the crabbers had waited for those from New Brunswick and had only left on May 2 to the detriment of the Madelinot crabbers who were not able to fish all of their quotas.

In 2020, continues Mr. Boudreau, the factories of New Brunswick delayed the opening, because they were not ready because of the COVID-19, even if all the factories of Quebec were ready. Island fishermen left 105 tonnes of crabs in the water.

Last year, the exceptionally mild winter favored a start in early April and the issue of ice did not arise.

This year, the ice is particularly present in the ports of New Brunswick, in particular in Caraquet.

And there, the Coast Guard which is not ready! It makes no senseexclaims Paul Boudreau. He fears that the scenarios of 2019 and 2020 will repeat themselves.

Fisheries and Oceans cancels a meeting

The chairman of the industry committee, Mr. Desbois, also does not understand why it was the department that canceled the industry meeting that was to take place on Friday. They are, he said, in technical support for translation, things like that, and bringing the Coast Guard for updates, Environment Canada.

He explains that if, during these meetings, industry members agree on a departure date, Fisheries and Oceans issues the order within 48 hours.

He was notified like the others of a cancellation which he describes as arbitrary.

Paul Boudreau shares the same misunderstanding: Fisheries and Oceans is canceling the industry meeting!

Under the eyes of the Americans

The Association québécoise de l’industrie de la pêche adds its voice to those of the crabbers. The transformers are also ready. They are asking the Minister of Fisheries, Joyce Murray, for an immediate opening of the fishery.

The director ofQuebec fishing industry associationJean-Paul Gagné, adds that he wrote just last week to Minister Murray to ask her to authorize fishing as soon as the gulf is free of ice, which is now the case, he says. And there we wait!

He says Quebec processors have even pledged not to buy crab from New Brunswick fishermen so as not to harm businesses in the neighboring province.

Workers at a seafood processing plant.

Workers at a seafood processing plant (archive)

Photo: Radio-Canada

Mr. Gagné also observes that the best protection for whales against entanglements is early fishing. Processors are on the lookout, since interactions with the right whale could endanger the marketing of the resource in the United States.

Jean-Paul Gagné argues that it is this year that the Americans will decide whether Canada’s protection measures for marine mammals are adequate: They are watching us closely!

A poor assessment would result in the closure of the border to marine product exports from Canada. This would be disastrous for the economy of coastal regionscommented Mr. Gagné. Fisheries and Oceans knows all that, he adds. They don’t seem to listen to us in Quebec.

A political question?

The disappointment of the crabbers prompted the intervention of the MP for the Magdalen Islands, Joël Arseneau, who also asked the federal government to start fishing quickly. He points out that this fishery supports 830 workers in Quebec.

Earlier in March, Fisheries Minister André Lamontagne wrote to the minister to express his concerns about the start date of the fishery.

The representative of the traditional crab fishers of the Magdalen Islands considers that in the end it is the Minister of Fisheries, Joyce Murray, who is directly responsible for the lack of preparation of her department. It is also, according to him, who will be responsible if there are entanglements.

Ministry response

When questioned, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) explains that it made the decision to cancel the meeting after consulting other departments.

It has been determined that the conditions were not favorable for the safe opening of the snow crab fishery in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence this weekend, as recommended by certain fish harvester representatives.writes the spokesperson for Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

The department specifies that certain elements are necessary for fishing to be safe. These elements – search and rescue response system, the continued presence of ice in certain places and weather conducive to going out to sea – need to be put in place or evaluated.

The meeting scheduled for Friday has therefore been postponed to Monday.

The ministry writes that it will then have more information to share with committee members.

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