On May 12, Grand Manan fishermen were able to present their complaints and concerns in a face-to-face meeting with Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn.
Agenda items included the scallop fishery, tuna fishing, and the island’s wharf infrastructure, according to Melanie Sonnenberg, project manager for the Grand Manan Fishermen’s Association, which hosted the meeting.
Hearn was accompanied by Greg Thompson, Member of Parliament for New Brunswick Southwest.
Scallop fishermen want the current DFO catch limit lifted, on the grounds that there is no scientific research to back the limit, according to Sonnenberg. She added that one problem is that DFO is not used to dealing with multi-license fishermen. “If lobstering turns out to be the best way to go at a certain time, fishermen here are going to go lobstering. We don’t think they should be punished for that.”
The problem is complicated by the fact that there are often lobster traps set on the scallop grounds so those scallops don’t get harvested. Sonnenberg adds that island fishermen know these fisheries “better than anyone.”
Mid-bay scallopers continue to be treated like poor relations, she adds.
The problems of the mid-bay fishermen have existed for a long time, according to Melanie Sonnenberg, and “we’re very, very tired. We continue to feel that we’re being singled out when it comes to New Brunswick fishermen versus Nova Scotia.”
The wharf infrastructure, which is funded by DFO, is in a “state of extreme crisis,” Sonnenberg said, adding that serious funding is needed immediately just to bring the wharves up to code.
Sonnenberg was positive about the meeting with Hearn, however.
“He really listened to us,” she said. “And he asked really good questions. He was particularly interested in the whole issue, not to mention problems, of multi-licensed fishermen. And even when he was acting as devil’s advocate, you could tell he was drawing on his own background as a fisherman.”
Hearn was also positive. DFO spokesman Steve Outhouse said, “The Minister commented that he was very impressed with his meeting with the GMFA. The group was very well organized, professional, and clearly presented their positions on a number of important issues ranging from wharf infrastructure to Mid-Bay Scallop Management.”
He continued, “It was a great opportunity for the Minister to get to meet this group in person. It was a very positive first meeting, and the Minister complimented the group on their high level of collaboration between different fishing groups and interests on Grand Manan.”
Sonnenberg added, “We may be suffering from an inferiority complex, but it’s well founded.”