BEDEQUE – The bustling beach of Hurds Point on Bedeque Bay was the scene of the opening salvo in a war to save the iconic P.E.I. oyster fishermen.
The Prince Edward Island Shellfish Association, which represents the Island’s independent wild oyster fishermen, called reporters to a press conference there Monday so they could outline what they call a grave threat to their industry.
“It’s not just our livelihood, it’s a way of life. And this is the last traditional fishery on Prince Edward Island,” said Brenda Campbell, president of the association.
The group said it decided to speak out following a February decision by the P.E.I. Aquaculture Leasing Management Board to allow 900 acres of Island mussel leases to be approved for multispecies use.
A lease is a set area of space in a body of water where shellfish harvesting rights are rented out by the Crown.
Since 2010 the P.E.I. Aquaculture Leasing Management Board has had the authority to review applications from lease holders who want to ‘add a species’ to their leases.
That ‘add a species’ proviso means that if a company has a lease on which they can harvest one species, like mussels, they can apply to add another, like oysters.
The association said that since 2010, 1,508 acres of mussel leases have already been approved for possible oyster production.
That fact is troubling enough on its own, they said, but rumours are circulating throughout the Island fishing community that oyster farming on these multispecies leases is going to start gearing up in the near future. They said companies have been buying large amounts of gear to grow oysters and have been applying for permits to catch spat (larval oysters.)
The association said that wild oyster fishermen are afraid of large scale farming of the species squeezing them out.
That’s a scary prospect for someone who’s been fishing all their lives and doesn’t have much to fall back on, said Stan Casey, a fishermen and industry spokesman during the event.
“I just hope to God we can turn this around, because it’s going to take a lot of people out of work,” he said.
“I don’t have anything against anybody getting ahead in life – but do they have to step on the back of the little fellas? And that’s what they’re to get what they want.”
Campbell said that the association is planning to have a meeting with its members at the Travellers Inn in Summerside on June 7, 3 p.m., to discuss an action plan to combat the proliferation of multispecies leases. It has invited provincial and federal officials to join them and answer questions.
If a resolution can’t be found soon, they plan on appealing to Federal Fisheries Minister and local MP Gail Shea to intervene.