Too Many Boats

The Lobster Season opened on Monday – a day early. I made it down to the Harbour before 5:00 am and got at least this shot of one of the boats before they left. There was a little bit of vapour but it was above freezing – very unusual for this time of year. In fact it went up to 17C (63F) on Tuesday. They say it will remain above seasonal temperature-wise but that we should expect a lot of snow. Great!

I’ve been trying to get you some images of the boats out doing their work but, honestly, it’s really hit and miss these days if I’m going to get time and then if my hands are going to cooperate. It’ll get better as I finish the winter preparations. I hope. In the meantime you’ll see from the following notes that I am my usual optimistic, cheerful self. 🙂

I was out there at sunrise this morning – in time to see this boat loading bait. You also have photos of one heading out Head Harbour Channel, a small boat setting traps next to the Lighthouse, with the fisheries boat sailing past, and some of the big boats on the horizon out by the Wolves.

I’ve been reading stories from various locations around the North Atlantic in which they bemoan the number of boats competing for a limited catch. In England it was scallops, here in the Maritimes right now it is Lobsters. Remember this is a relatively small part of the world. This next image is a screenshot I made as I started writing this. It’s from the Marine Traffic website and shows you the big boats hauling traps right now – the majority of them right off the Wolves. These are the large multi-million dollar vessels with their AIS turned on. There are others, mostly smaller, who don’t bother broadcasting their locations.

In order to make those big boats financially viable they often carry multiple licenses meaning they are fishing with 450 or 600 traps each. Those three Islands you see there (from top to bottom Deer, Campobello, and Grand Manan) depend on this fishery. The whole economy relies on its success.

Oh, there’s lots of talk about the number of boats and what that means in terms of individual fishermen being able to make a living. In some places, (the loudest is a neighbouring Province) there is a LOT of finger pointing at First Nations licenses. It makes no difference if you point out that the number of Treaty Licenses is tiny in comparison to the size of the fleet. People need an easy/visible threat and it’s much easier to blame the “other” than it is to look around them at their own Harbours.

If I sound concerned it’s because I am. Climate Change is affecting the water (most obviously its temperature) and that is contributing to a decline in the numbers of fish of all kinds. At the same time there are fishermen investing in larger and larger boats, while Pension Funds are buying up licenses.

The smaller boats have limited trap numbers but still have to make a living. Years ago a Lobster license would cost you a few thousand dollars. When I got here they were worth more than $1 million – although I think that has gone down a bit.

Many of the more “experienced” fishermen can’t just cash in and retire. Changes in regulations many years ago mean that the older ones cannot be sold. Younger boat captains have to find a lot of money somewhere or lease from a current owner.

So, the retired Management Consultant in me sees a number of issues all targeting the same industry – environmental, cultural, economic. The logical thing to do right now would be to get all the stakeholders in a room and crack heads. I’m kidding – mostly.

The Government is the only party which can bring all the disparate groups (including the scientists) together and figure something out. None of those parties will be there voluntarily. Writing new regulations without considering all of the various factors, and without achieving consensus, will just lead to disaster.

My only knowledge of this situation comes from listening and reading and observing. The result is that my limited understanding leads me to worry that if nothing is done in the near future there will be more violence and local economies suffering. All I can do is watch. Well, watch and eat lots of seafood. 🙂

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