Fishermen see flexibility for setting day

Editor’s note: Lobster season officially kicked-off in the early morning hours of Monday, Nov. 8.

GRAND MANAN – The second Tuesday of November has always been a big day for the lobster fisherman on Grand Manan; setting day. And for the first time, the day traps are placed for lobster season comes with a bit of flexibility.

Melanie Sonnenberg is the general manager of the Grand Manan Fisherman’s Association (GMFA). She explained how setting day works.

“In the fisheries regulation, as it stands now, we can, the fisherman who have lobster licenses, can leave the wharf at 7 a.m. on the second Tuesday of November,” she said. “In the past, we’ve had weather days where it’s been problematic.

“From the second Tuesday, you could have four of five days where you can’t get out, and we’ve actually had that happen.”

Now, the GMFA has been granted the ability to go out one day sooner from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

“We put a proposal into the department several years ago looking for this flexibility, to allow the best possible window, which for us is all about safety,” said Sonnenberg. “It’s about giving our folks a good day to set and giving them every took they have in terms of a safe operation, and having good weather is one of the biggest factors.”

Recently, there was movement on their proposal.

“We finally landed this year, the department has agreed that we could go backward one day,” explained Sonnenberg. “We could effectively start on Monday, Nov. 8 at 7 a.m. in the morning, instead of Nov. 9, which is the second Tuesday of November.”

She broke down the decision-making process to ensure a safe setting day is had by all.

“We sit down the Monday before about 3:30 in the afternoon and we have a call with Environment Canada to have the latest weather available to us at that moment,” said Sonnenberg. “That’s pretty much the latest where we start to make some decisions on ‘is this a fishing day or are we going to stay tied up’.”

This year, the timeline will be sped-up.

“So, this year, because of this decision, we will get together with Environment Canada on Friday and their three-day forecast. Wind, waves, sea height, that kind of information we are looking for, and then from there, we’ll say, ‘okay, this really doesn’t look good for Tuesday, we like the option to back it off,” she said. “At this point, all it will be is an option to back it off until Monday.”

While one day might not seem like much to non-fisherman, this flexibility means a lot to members of the GMFA.

“Everyday you’re not fishing in the fall is a day lost,” said Sonnenberg. “For us, the beginning of the season is very important, and it can make or break people if they don’t get off to a good start.

“But what the organization is interested in, as well as the whole industry here on Grand Manan is very pro-safe start.”

Because of the unpredictable weather in the fall, Sonnenberg said that flexibility can mean days aren’t lost on the water.

“After you have the gear out, then you can start your regular business of fishing and you can haul in more winds than you can set in,” she said. “It’s a lot to manage and people want us to have as many things going for them as they can.”

The original proposal made to DFO was to make Monday, Nov. 8 as the earliest flexibility date, as it is the earliest possible second Tuesday.

“What we originally asked for was in any period, sometimes the second Tuesday falls much later in the month, and I believe that we can go as long as Nov. 14, so we asked that we could go back as far as Nov. 8 to look at the weather and working with (DFO) to be able to go backwards because that is the earliest we would ever set,” said Sonnenberg.

“Nov. 8 is the second Tuesday of November that is earliest, so we wouldn’t be making extra days,” she added. “We wanted to look at it from a conservation point of view, which is important because this isn’t about a grab for extra days. There’s rationale behind it and we are very comfortable in supporting that, so we wanted to make sure the department understood this doesn’t impact our conservation, this doesn’t give us extra days, what it does is provide a safety aspect to give people that platform.

The final decision will happen on Sunday, to see is they will take advantage of their one available flexible day.

Abby Cameron