Member of Parliament for Egmont, Bobby Morrissey said in a year-end interview with the Journal Pioneer he agrees with the fishing industry’s assessment that “DFO has to step up its game on enforcement.”
Noting fishermen in Lobster Fishing Areas 24 and 26A have voted in favour of a carapace size increase, and fishermen in LFA 25 are two-thirds of the way through scheduled increases, Morrissey said DFO has to do its part.
“If we are going to have a lucrative fishery; if we're going to ask fishermen to make conservation decisions for the strength of the fishery, then it is the federal government’s responsibility, through DFO, to ensure there is adequate enforcement in place,” Morrissey acknowledged.
The Egmont MP said he wants a more visible and aggressive DFO, and he suggested the penalty section has to be readdressed to consider whether the penalties are adequate enough to discourage illegal fishing activities and to ensure the long-term success of the various fisheries.
He said he wouldn’t want east coast lobster to go the way of the Newfoundland cod fishery which has never really recovered following its collapse a quarter-century ago.
“I, as a politician would never make short-term decisions that I felt would have a long-term negative impact of the fishery,” he said, noting he continues to support his government’s 2016 decision to impose lobster carapace increases in Lobster Fishing Area 25, a fall zone shared by fishermen on both sides of Northumberland Strait.
“DFO only sees one fishery,” he said in noting the majority of fishermen in LFA 25 are from New Brunswick where there had been a lobby for the increase. And, although the majority of P.E.I. fishermen in the district might have been opposed to the increase when it was imposed, he doubts if they would want to turn back the clock now. Other conservation measures that fishermen now approve of, such as escape mechanisms, were once opposed, too, he said.
Morrissey said landings for P.E.I. fall fishermen increased from 5.643 million pounds in 2015 to 6.9 million in 2016, and preliminary numbers have the landings close to 7.3 million last year. During that period, he said the percentage of market lobsters in the catch went from 42.26 per cent in 2015 to 44.51 per cent in 2016 and to approximately 52.47 per cent in the fall of 2017.
“We all know a market is more valuable than a canner,” he said in stressing fishermen are financially benefitting from the increase.
“As an old fisherman told me, ‘Bobby, you can only catch a lobster and sell it once,’” Morrissey said in furthering his defence of the carapace increase.
“His view was it was akin to harvesting a field of potatoes in August when it was only maturing in September, or harvesting your blueberries three weeks before they become ripe.”
He suggested the votes in favour of size increases in Prince Edward Island’s spring lobster fisheries are indications those fisheries are seeing the value in increasing the measure.
The lobster fishery’s increased value, Morrissey said, is also helping to strengthen the economy throughout Egmont.