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‘This injustice must be reversed’: N.B. lobster Class B fisherman, family make plea for rule change

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New Brunswick lobster Class B fisherman, family make plea for rule change
WATCH: One New Brunswick fisherman with a Class B licence is fighting a ticking clock. Michel Arseneau has cancer and his family says once he dies, his licence will cease to exist due to policy changes in the 1970s. Nathalie Sturgeon has our look at one family's fight to keep a legacy alive. – Feb 9, 2023

Michel Arseneau’s family would say his relationship with the ocean is a love story.

He has been a fisherman for as long as his granddaughter, Maryse Arseneau, can remember. He bought his first lobster fishing licence in 1953.

“He lives right on the bay,” she said, speaking about the rural fishing village of Petit-Rocher. “For him and the bay, it’s like a love story.”

In 1976, his licence was made a Class B by the federal government in an effort to improve sustainability and conservation. It came with strict limits on the number of traps that can be set and the licence cannot be transferred or sold.

Michel Arseneau, an 86-year-old lobster fisherman, wants to government to change the rules on Class B licences before he dies and it expires. Maryse Arseneau / Submitted

Class B licences only allow for 30 per cent of the fishing that Class A licences have. Those licences were assigned to fishers who had another source of income, which Arseneau did, in the forestry industry.

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Fishers with a Class B licence can only set 113 traps.

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Arseneau was out fishing on his boat the day he received his cancer diagnosis. Now, as Arseneau battles cancer that has spread to his lungs, he has one last wish: for the policy to be changed. He wants to see the reversal of the “moonlighter” policy regarding other sources of income and the fact Class B licences are non-transferable and cannot be sold.

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“Though I have very few regrets in life, it is one of my greatest wishes to not have our tradition of fishing die with me,” he said in a letter to Serge Cormier, the MP for Acadie-Bathurst.

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He isn’t the only one fighting against the decades-old policy. A law firm, Cox and Palmer, is representing the remaining 70 Class B fishers in the Maritimes, who have taken the federal government to court.

“These fishermen are suffering as they prepare themselves and their families for hardships that could easily be avoided,” Michel P. Samson, with Cox and Palmer, said in a statement. “We cannot allow Minister Joyce Murray to ignore these individuals and a federal court ruling as time is literally running out.”

In December 2021, a judge ruled in favour of Donald Publicover in a judicial review of previous Department of Fisheries and Oceans minister Bernadette Jordan’s decision to deny an exemption that would allow him to sell his licence.

The judge said, at the time, Jordan’s decision was “not intelligible or justified.”

But for Arseneau, the wounds of the policy run deep. He’s been fighting it for five decades, but his cancer diagnosis has worsened and Maryse Arseneau said her family doesn’t know how much time they have left with their beloved grandfather.

Maryse Arseneau says she wants her grandfather’s legacy to live on.
Maryse Arseneau says she wants her grandfather’s legacy to live on. Maryse Arseneau / Submitted

“When the ‘moonlighter’ policy was first introduced, all of the downgraded lobster fishermen were told by then-DFO Minister Romeo Leblanc if we were to retire or lose our second job, we would be able to regain our Class A designation,” he said in his letter. “These promises were not kept. Without clear communication of a policy change from the government, our ability to regain our Class A licence was no longer possible.”

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He said in his letter that his family will be left dealing with the consequences of the policy long after he’s gone.

“This reality has been happening to families in your constituency for far too long, but I plan on continuing to fight this policy for as long as I live,” he said. “This injustice must be reversed, and you have the opportunity to support me and others like me to right this wrong as we reach the ends of our lives.”

Maryse Arseneau said her family doesn’t believe her grandfather will make it to the next fishing season, so time is of the essence.

“His legacy is there,” she said. “It is what he wants. It’s what he deserves, too.”

More than 1,000 letters have been written to Fisheries and Oceans Minister Joyce Murray, but Arseneau said there has been no movement on the file or communications to the fishers involved or their families.

Maryse Arseneau said she’s pleading with the government to make a decision and make it right, including asking Class A fishermen to speak up for their colleagues.

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“I don’t want to think about if it doesn’t happen, I hope the minister and the DFO, they talk it through, and right the wrongs that have been done,” she said.

Global News reached out to Department of Fisheries and Oceans Minister Joyce Murray, who was unavailable for an interview Thursday. Acadie-Bathurst MP Serge Cormier did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.

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