By Andy Walker
FOR THE SOU’WESTER
Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield appears determined to eliminate the herring fishery in the waters off Prince Edward Island, maintains Liberal Fisheries Critic Lawrence MacAulay.
The longest serving MP in Atlantic Canada, who represents the eastern PEI riding of Cardigan, was reacting to news the minister had granted The Barry Group permission to operate a mid-water herring trawler in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this spring. MacAulay has questioned the minister several times on the issue, both in the Commons and in meetings of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.
During a committee hearing, Ashfield described the move as a one-year pilot project. He said a similar fishery was held last year off the Magdalen Islands. David Balfour, who is Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Fisheries Management with the department, told the committee the quota for the pilot is included in the total 5,000-ton allocation given to the Newfoundland company.
MacAulay questioned the move, saying the herring catch was down in Area 4T last year.
“You have now allocated to this group a deeper, larger net that will catch the herring. That means that you’re going to take herring that could not be caught previously out of the mix. What will happen if one entire school or family of fish is removed? Where do we go then?”
MacAulay wanted to know whether DFO had discussions with fishermen’s advisory groups about the issue. Balfour indicated the Barry Group has not received any additional quota and a mid-water trawl is permitted in the fishery. The department bureaucrat told MacAulay the total allowable catch for the spring herring fishery will likely go down since stocks have declined.
“This brings back bad memories of the major fight we had a few years ago when the seiners were fishing the shoreline off Prince Edward Island,” said MacAulay, “We were successful in having them moved out beyond the 25-fathom line.”
The fisheries critic said the move is designed to allow the Barry Group boat to catch fall spawners as they return from their wintering ground.
“Last year the Minister of Fisheries allowed three purse seiners into the Gulf but their nets couldn’t reach far enough and deep enough to catch the herring in deep water,” he went on to say in a news release. “Now he has given a permit for a large mid-water trawler to fish this area along the edge of the Laurentien Channel where the deeper water provided protection in the past.”
MacAulay added it is “totally unacceptable” to make the decision before the total allowable catch for the region is set. He charged, “The corporate trawlers will take everything and will not stop until every last fish is gone. Without herring, as referred to as the Queen of the Sea, nothing else will survive – lobster, tuna, all fisheries depend on a healthy herring stock for a food source.”