[CHARLOTTETOWN, PE] — Whenever long time North Rustico fisherman Carl Gallant thinks of the possible changes coming to the Atlantic fishery he gets nervous, very nervous.
"It’s scary, I will tell you that," Gallant said during an interview on the wharf on a warm spring Saturday morning. "If they take the independent core fisherman out of it (the fishery) you will have a lawyer owning 20 licenses and big companies owning 50 licenses and what they will do is get somebody to fish for them and tell them ‘we will give you $2 per pound for your lobsters and if you don’t like it go somewhere else’ except there is nowhere else."
Gallant said if that happens then in 25 years there will be no independent fishers left because the licenses will be all company owned.
“I don’t know what the government is thinking. They put the policy in 25 or 30 years ago to encourage core independent fishermen and now they are trying to take it out.”
Gallant sees the move to give licenses to business owners as a way for the large herring seiners like those of the Barry Group in Corner Brook, N.L. that were removed from P.E.I.’s inshore waters in the last decade a chance to move back into those areas.
Gallant is referring to the federal Conservatives' plan to eliminate the current policy of fleet separation and owner/operator policies that protect the traditional Atlantic fishery. Fishers feel the current policy is necessary to protect the hundreds of coastal fishing communities and independent fishers in the inshore industry.
Island Liberal MP Lawrence MacAulay has said the fleet separation and owner-operator policy form the backbone of the inshore and midshore fisheries in eastern Canada.
Fleet separation prevents a company from catching and processing seafood while the owner-operator policy requires the license holder to catch the fish.
Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield has not said if the current policy will remain, but critics of the changes say it could open the door to foreign companies to enter and possibly dominate the inshore fishery.
“If this (policy changes) passes you will see that within 10 years a lot of private owners will be done,” Gallant said. And the fishermen who remain will be forced to sell to the companies at whatever price the companies set. The fishermen will have no choice.
Gallant wants to pass his license on to his son, but he fears if the new policy is implemented the fishery as he knows it will cease to exist and there will be nothing left to pass down.
The season will open May 1 with setting day April 30 and despite all kinds of speculation on the part of fishermen the price per pound will not be known until buyers get their first load at the wharf, but Gallant feels prices will be better this year.
“All indications are the prices are going to be better than they were last year…$5 per pound would be a good price. Anything less than $5 makes it hard to make your payments.” Everything goes up every year except the lobster prices that go down every year, he said.
Whether it is fishing or farming it seems the primary producer never makes the money, Gallant said.