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Indigenous fisheries won’t have long-term impact on lobster conservation, biologist says

Click to play video 'Local biologist says indigenous-run fisheries won’t affect conservation efforts' Local biologist says indigenous-run fisheries won’t affect conservation efforts
WATCH: Commercial fishermen have said the Indigenous fisheries pose a threat to maintain healthy lobster stocks. It’s a narrative that’s formed ever since the start of the moderate livelihood fisheries in Nova Scotia. But as Graeme Benjamin reports, a local biologist says Indigenous-run fisheries likely won’t affect conservation efforts – Oct 22, 2020

A biologist at Dalhousie University says the launch of an Indigenous moderate livelihood fishery in southwest Nova Scotia likely won’t make a dent in the long-term conservation of lobster stock.

“The scale of this new commercial fishery is so small they shouldn’t be concerned for the conservation of lobster,” said Aaron MacNeil, an associate professor in Dalhousie University’s biology department and Canada Research Chair in Fisheries Ecology.

“There’s nobody that would say that this is a risk to conservation of lobster.”

Read more: ‘We need a clear plan’: MPs clash during emergency debate on Mi’kmaw lobster fisheries

Commercial fishermen in southwestern Nova Scotia have argued that the legal — and constitutionally-protected — fishery in southwest Nova Scotia will impact lobster stocks if they continue to fish outside of the commercial season.

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Appearing before the House of Commons standing committee of Fisheries and Oceans on Wednesday, Colin Sproul, president of the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association, said sustainability is at the heart of the dispute.

“It’s not lobsters landed on the dock, or dollars in a bank account. The true value of fishery access it to create fishing families and a lasting legacy of prosperity in Atlantic Canada’s First Nations,” said Sproul.

“The landings don’t account for all the damage that’s taking place by out of season fishing. It’s never appropriate to fish in a lobster breeding ground during the closed season.”

Click to play video 'Indigenous fishers optimistic following granted interim injunction' Indigenous fishers optimistic following granted interim injunction
Indigenous fishers optimistic following granted interim injunction – Oct 22, 2020

According to Chief Mike Sack, Sipekne’katik First Nation has so far issued seven lobster licences to band members with 50 traps each, resulting in a total of 350 traps in St. Mary’s Bay.

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The commercial fishery in the same zone has 2,979 commercial lobster licences, allowing up to 390,000 traps.

“If the concerns here are about conservation, science can help here,” said MacNeil. “Science can come up with an answer, we can work with both the band and the non-Native fishermen to figure out these numbers, and with DFO.

“That’s really the role of science — to decide what is true and what isn’t.”

Read more: Fisheries committee hears from Mi’kmaw experts and commercial fishermen association

But MacNeil does admit there could be potential concerns in the future, like if the fisheries get scaled up.

“If you start going up in order of magnitude or two, where you’re starting to have thousands or tens of thousands of traps, then it becomes relevant from a conservation perspective,” said MacNeil.

“If one of the concerns that’s being raised her is being raised here is about future expansion of this fishery, this is where science can help. The more data we have now, the more data we collect from all fishermen, the better we’re going to be able to say when problems start to occur.”