By Amy Woolvett
FOR THE SOU’WESTER
Fishermen in the Shelburne, N.S. area lost numerous traps and gear after a rough storm took the area by surprise in late December, setting back many smaller ventures significantly and hitting them hard financially.
“This is a very difficult time for many people affected by these storms,” said Sterling Belliveau, Nova Scotia’s fisheries and aquaculture minister and MLA for Shelburne County.
He met with federal Minister of Fisheries Gail Shea to ask for financial help for fishermen who lost their traps.
“The meeting was a productive one,” said Belliveau. “We discussed several topics, including storm damage compensation options for lobster fishermen whose traps were in the water and damaged in December.”
While Minister Shea did not make any commitments, the decision to provide relief funding is being studied.
But Gerald Keddy, the MP for South Shore-St.Margaret’s, believes that Belliveau is misleading lobster fishermen in fishing areas 33 and 34, pointing out that the federal Fisheries and Oceans is only responsible for storm damage to wharves and harbours managed by Small Craft Harbours and not boats and gear.
“Lobster fishers clearly understand the jurisdictional differences between federal and provincial responsibilities,” he said. “It is very unfair to fishers to raise expectations that something more than provincial funds could be available for the damage to their pots.
Keddy said he has been speaking to the Shea who he says clearly explained DFO’s responsibilities when speak with Belliveau. “Minister Shea has confirmed the federal government’s commitment to repair wharfs and harbours and has asked DFO officials to assess storm damage as quickly as possible and report back to her as soon as possible,” said Keddy.
But Belliveau feels that all avenues should be explored to reach a happy conclusion for fishermen.
“We are committed to working with the federal government to explore all possible options and we will continue to do so,” he stated.
He said that in his meeting with Minister Shea, she had asked the province to gather information on the situation.
“She suggested that we apply for an exception for federal disaster funding,” he said. “We are working on this right now.”
In speaking with Minister Belliveau, MP Keddy suggested that he allow the Nova Scotia Fisheries Loan Board to supply low interest loans, at prime rate, for trap losses.
“This would be a responsible, fair and immediate way to deal with this challenge before the spring season,” said Keddy. “This solution should also be made to accommodate those fishers whose credit ratings have been stressed by the last couple years of low lobster prices.”
Belliveau said that he wants to find a solution to the problem as soon as possible.
“I understand the fishermen who had gear and traps destroyed are frustrated and disappointed with the delays and I am committed to bringing this critical issue forward until we resolve it,” he said. “What matters most right now is working together to help our lobster fishermen replace their lost or damaged equipment so they can continue to earn a living.”